The Centre on Tuesday told the Rajya Sabha that no deaths due to lack of oxygen were “specifically reported” by states and union territories during the second COVID-19 wave that hit the country.
Shortly after the statement by the Centre was made in a written reply by the Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar, AICC General Secretary K C Venugopal accused the minister of having "misled" the house. Describing the statement as "condemnable", Venugopal, a Rajya Sabha MP to whose question the reply was given, said he will move a privilege motion against the minister.
"In every state and in Delhi also, we have seen how many patients died due to lack of oxygen we know. Actually, the minister misled the House. I will move a privilege (motion) against the minister definitely because she misguided and misled the House by giving false information to the House," Venugopal told reporters.
Pawar in her written reply at the same time said there was an unprecedented surge in demand for medical oxygen during the second wave and it peaked at nearly 9,000 MT compared to 3,095 MT in the first wave following which the Centre had to step in to facilitate equitable distribution among the states.
Responding to the question on whether a large number of COVID-19 patients died on roads and hospitals due to acute shortage of oxygen during the devastating second wave, Pawar noted that health is a state subject and states and UTs regularly report the number of cases and deaths to the Centre.
"Detailed guidelines for reporting of deaths have been issued by the Union Health Ministry to all states and UTs.
"Accordingly, all states and UTs report cases and deaths to the Union Health Ministry on a regular basis. However, no deaths due to lack of oxygen have been specifically reported by states and UTs," she said.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also took a swipe at the Centre, alleging there is acute lack of sensitivity and truth in this government. "There was not just the shortage of oxygen. There was an acute shortage of sensitivity and truth then, it was there then and is there now too," Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi.
During the peak of the brutal second wave in April-May this year, there were media reports about death of COVID patients including in Delhi due to alleged oxygen shortage.
In Karnataka, state officials had said on May 3 that 24 patients including 23 suffering from COVID-19 died in Chamarajanagar due to alleged oxygen shortage in the district hospital during a 24-hour period from the previous day.
Chamarajanagar district in-charge Minister S Suresh Kumar, who is also the Primary and Secondary Education Minister, however, had maintained that all the deaths did not occur due to oxygen shortage.
Participating in a short duration discussion in the Rajya Sabha on the COVID pandemic management, Shantanu Sen of the Trinamool Congress said that during the second wave, people were dying on the roads because of the scarcity of oxygen and this has happened in the 21st century, which is a "matter of shame".
In her written reply, Minister Pawar went on to say that states were being provided with oxygen equipment such as oxygen cylinders, concentrators and Pressure Swing Adsorption oxygen generation plants. A total of 4,02,517 oxygen cylinders have been procured or are being procured and distributed to the states, she said.
As many as 1,222 PSA Oxygen generation plants have been sanctioned. Out of these, as on July 15, 237 plants have been commissioned.
Apart from this, 295 PSA plants are being installed by different ministries, the minister said.
States have also been asked to prepare state-level oxygen generation plants, she added.
To increase the storage capacity of liquid medical oxygen in the states, under the emergency COVID Package-Part-II, 1,050 Liquid Medical Oxygen Tanks along with Medical Gas Pipeline System at a cost of Rs 80 lakh each have been approved.
The Government of India has supported the states and undertook a series of actions including provisioning medical oxygen, and other consumables to ensure clinical care of COVID-19 patients in view of the steep rise of COVID-19 trajectory in the country during April-May 2021, the minister said.
On the total demand of oxygen by the states and total oxygen supplied, the minister said the supply of medical oxygen to hospitals is determined by contractual arrangements between the hospital and the medical oxygen supplier concerned.
"However, due to unprecedented surge in demand of medical oxygen during the second wave -- the demand in the country peaked to nearly 9,000 MT as compared to 3,095 MT during the first wave -- the central government had to step in to facilitate equitable distribution to the states.
"A dynamic and transparent framework for allocation of medical oxygen in consultation with states and UTs and all the stakeholders such as relevant ministries, manufacturers/suppliers of liquid oxygen, etc was prepared," the written reply stated.
The active caseload of the state and UT was the primary determinant of oxygen allocation. Other factors such as case doubling rate, available medical infrastructure, etc. were also given due consideration.
Further, the allocation was kept dynamic as per the changing pandemic load.
The first allocation order was issued on April 15, 2021 and revised from time to time, based on the trends of active cases and supply position. A total allocation of 10,250 MT has been done to 26 high burden states as on May 28, 2021, according to the written reply
The Government of India, along with the state governments, took all possible steps to tackle the unprecedented surge in oxygen demand that arose in the second wave of COVID-19, it said.
This includes enhancement of liquid medical oxygen production from 5,700 MTs in August 2020 to 9,690 MTs in May 2021, restrictions on industrial use of oxygen; and augmentation of availability of containers.
A dynamic and transparent framework for allocation of medical oxygen in consultation with states and UTs and all the stakeholders such as relevant Ministries, manufacturers/suppliers of liquid oxygen, etc. was prepared.
Also, online digital solutions viz Oxygen Demand Aggregation system and Oxygen Digital Tracking System have been developed to ascertain the demand for medical oxygen from all medical facilities and to track their transportation.
Further, to avoid wastage of medical oxygen, guidelines on rational use of oxygen were issued on September 25, 2020. These were further revised and disseminated to States on April 25, 2021.