Did the Delhi Govt Actually Inflate Its Oxygen Need? What We Know
The Centre alleged that the Kejriwal-led Delhi government had inflated its need for oxygen by four times.
In an affidavit filed by the Centre in the Supreme Court (SC), an interim report submitted by a sub-group of the SC-appointed oxygen audit panel alleged that the Delhi administration had exaggerated its need for the life-saving gas by four times.
Citing the report, several Union ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, on Friday, 25 June, attacked the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government for playing “politics over oxygen.”
Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia on the other hand said that the claim was “malicious and false” propaganda, and stated that the report of the committee is yet to be filed in court.
Moreover, dissent notes of the members of the sub-group itself have raised questions against the “interim report” and whether the data is accurate.
Members of the Sub-Group Disagree
Bhupinder Bhalla, principal secretary (Home), Delhi and Dr Sandeep Buddhiraja of Max Healthcare, the only non-government member of the committee, did not attend the final meeting held on18 May and rather sent their respective notes, which were attached in the interim report submitted.
According to Bhalla’s dissent note, “The manner in which the proceedings of the Sub- Group have been conducted, suggests that the purpose of proceedings was to justify a pre-conceived and predetermined conclusion and narrative, to recommend a lower quantity of LMO to Delhi, and to further portray an impression that the assessment by the GNCTD before the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi and the Hon’ble Supreme Court was exaggerated or not genuine,” The New Indian Express reported.
How Was the Audit Conducted?
While India was grappling with the second wave of COVID, oxygen shortages were reported from several parts of the country. For almost three weeks during the second wave of COVID-19, Delhi faced severe oxygen shortages, leading to an acute scarcity in the availability of oxygenated beds in the city's hospitals.
The Delhi High Court on 21 April had directed the central government to ensure the supply of medical oxygen by “whatever means required". Following which, on 8 May, the Supreme Court set up audit committees in each state to “ensure a measure of accountability for the proper distribution of oxygen supplies,” made by the Centre.
The sub-group formed for Delhi, included AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria, Delhi government’s Principal (Home) Secretary Bhupinder S Bhalla, Controller of Explosives SK Singh, and Max Hospital’s Dr Sandeep Budhiraja, among others.
On their second meeting on 12 May, the committee agreed upon the method to assess Delhi’s oxygen requirement and asking hospitals to report their actual oxygen consumption levels, standardised proformas were sent out to all hospitals.
A total of 183 out of the 260 hospitals the proformas were sent to, responded with oxygen consumption data of 12 May. These proformas were sent and received by the Delhi government on the behalf of the committee, Scroll reported.
Discrepancies were found once the responses were analysed. The total oxygen consumption of the 183 hospitals added up to 1,140 metric tonnes (MT). According to the committee, the discrepancy was a result of misreporting by four hospitals: Singhal Hospital, Aruna Asaf Ali Hospital, ESIC Model Hospital, and Liferay Hospital.
Using the Centre’s formula for oxygen requirement based on the number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients, the committee calculated Delhi’s ideal oxygen consumption level for 12 May at 289 MT.
The claim of a four times inflated requirement by the Delhi government comes from this calculation. In contrast, the Delhi government’s calculation measured the oxygen requirement for the day at 391 MT.
This disparity arises because while the Centre’s formula assumes that only 50 percent of the non-ICU beds need oxygen, the Delhi government theorised that that all non-ICU oxygenated beds use oxygen.
Why the Claim is Reportedly Inaccurate
The Scroll in its report stated, two of Delhi’s largest COVID-19 facilities: GTB and LNJP hospitals, which had 500 beds each for COVID-19 patients, were not included in the 183 hospitals that sent back the proformas.
The Delhi government never officially demanded 1,140 MT of oxygen. The figure appeared incorrectly during the early stages of data collection for an audit and was later rectified.
The interim report also included comments from Bhalla, who admitted to the errors and said that after verification, the total consumption of the 183 hospitals on 12 May added up to 390 metric tonnes.
A total of 214 hospitals, excluding the LNJP and GTB hospitals, eventually submitted their oxygen requirements. Max Healthcare’s Budhiraja stated in his note, “after repeated corrections (as hospital medical superintendents used a different format), the total O2 consumption (based on actual consumption data of 214 hospitals) came to around 490 MT,” Scroll reported.
Both Budhiraja and Bhalla had also flagged that the actual number may be even higher as the following were not taken into account:
- Patients’ requirement being administered oxygen at home.
- All 260 COVID-19 hospitals in the city.
- Non-COVID requirements of hospitals.
The highest official oxygen demand raised by the Delhi government, even during the peak of the second wave in April and early May was for 700 MT per day.
Based on orders by the Delhi High Court, the Centre finally agreed to allocate 590 MT of oxygen to the state, only to fulfilled the amount three times between from 4 to 14 May, the report added.
The two figures used for the alleged inflation of oxygen demand are 289 MT (calculated on Centre’s formula) and 1,140 MT (an incorrect figure which appeared incorrectly during the early stages of the audit.)
Meanwhile, the committee’s report acknowledges, that even by using the Centre’s formula for calculating oxygen requirement, on 3 May, Delhi’s hospitals needed 415 MT of oxygen.
For the same day, oxygen requirement going by the Delhi government’s formula was 568 MT. Double of the figure of 12 May (289 MT) used as the basis to make the “four times” claim.
Delhi’s principal secretary (Home) Bhupinder Bhalla’s note added, “There is no gainsaying that this kind of exercise does not further the spirit, intent and objective of the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court whereby the Sub-group was constituted.”
Meanwhile, after Friday’s barrage of attacks on the Delhi government by Union Minister Prakash Javadekar, lawmaker Gautam Gambhir, BJP leader Sambit Patra, among others, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote on Twitter, “My crime – I fought for the breath of my 2 crore people. When you were organising election rallies, I was awake all night arranging oxygen. I fought, pleaded to get people oxygen. People have lost their loved ones due to the lack of oxygen. Don't call them liars.”
(With inputs from The New Indian Express and Scoll.in)
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