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Why Did Govt Ignore Parliament Panel’s ‘Oxygen Shortage’ Warning?

Why didn’t the government expedite procurement & installation of oxygen plants when tenders were issued in Oct 2020?

Updated
India
4 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Covid-19 patient wheeled on a hospital trolley by family members, who are also seen struggling to carry an oxygen cylinder alongside.</p></div>
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Warnings about a looming oxygen shortage shared in Parliament as long back as November 2020, were ignored by the Central Government. Why?

“The Committee recommends that the Government encourages adequate production of oxygen for ensuring its supply as per demand in hospitals,” said a report titled, ‘The Outbreak of Pandemic COVID-19 And its Management’ prepared by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health And Family Welfare.

The report was presented to the Chairman, Rajya Sabha on 21 November 2020 and forwarded to the Speaker Lok Sabha, on 24 November 2020 based on the inputs from different stakeholders over a period of nine months (February-October 2020).

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Excerpts from the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report.</p></div>

Excerpts from the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report.

(Image: Arnica Kala/The Quint)

The report highlights that on 16 October 2020, the Secretary of Health and Family Welfare had informed the committee that almost 50% of the oxygen produced in India was consumed when COVID cases peaked in mid-September 2020.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>(File photo)</p><p>Patna: Family members mourn the death of a COVID-19 victim at Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic , in Patna, Wednesday, May 5, 2021</p></div>

(File photo)

Patna: Family members mourn the death of a COVID-19 victim at Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic , in Patna, Wednesday, May 5, 2021

(Photo: AFTAB ALAM SIDDIQUI/IANS)

“The overall production in the country is roughly in the region of 6,900 metric ton every day. Out of 6,900 metric ton, the highest consumption of medical oxygen was reported in mid-September, in and around 24th or 25th September, when the consumption was almost 3,000 metric tons of oxygen a day,” informed the Health Secretary to the Committee.

The Committee's report was a loud and clear warning about the increase in oxygen demand during the pandemic. It also advised the government 'to increase investment in public health and take appropriate steps to decentralise healthcare services/facilities in the country'.

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<div class="paragraphs"><p>Excerpts from the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report.</p></div>

Excerpts from the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report.

(Image: Arnica Kala/The Quint)

CMSS Silent On Tender For 150 PSA Oxygen Plant Issued in Oct '20

Did the government or Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHF) do anything to ensure increase in the supply of oxygen in 2020?

Yes, but it looks like it only acted 'on paper'.

In October 2020, the ‘Central Medial Services Society’ (CMSS), an autonomous body under MoHF, issued an online tender for 150 PSA Oxygen Generation Plant at Public Health Facilities across the India. With the tender, the CMSS also identified names of 150 hospitals in different states where the PSA oxygen plants were to be set up.

To find out what happened to these 150 PSA oxygen plants, (Retd) Commodore Lokesh Batra filed Right To Information (RTI) application seeking information on the installation of these 150 oxygen plants. He also asked about how these plants were being funded.

The RTI reply received from CMSS on 15 June 2021 was silent on the 150 PSA oxygen plants. Why?

It seems the CMSS had no information to share because it had not expedited the process of procuring and installing PSA oxygen plants when tenders were issued in October 2020 despite the warnings.

For the government to procure and install a PSA oxygen plant would take a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks... if CMSS had floated a tender for 150 oxygen plants in October 2020, then technically installation could have begun in December and a majority of these plants should’ve been installed by January 2021.
Rajiv Nath, Forum Coordinator Association of Indian Manufacturers Medical Devices
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<div class="paragraphs"><p>File Image: Shruti Saha, who lost her mother due to a shortage in oxygen supply, wails on a Delhi street.</p></div>

File Image: Shruti Saha, who lost her mother due to a shortage in oxygen supply, wails on a Delhi street.

(Photo Courtesy: Videograb/Twitter)

The CMSS' complacent approach in the installation of oxygen plants in hospitals, cost thousands of lives during COVID's second wave. Many lives could've been saved had the government ensured smooth supply of oxygen.

In the same RTI application, Batra also asked about the status of the 162 PSA Oxygen plants announced under the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund on 5 January 2021, worth Rs 201.58 crore. The task of procuring and installing these plants had also been handed over to the CMSS.

The CMSS in its RTI reply shared information about the status of 162 PSA oxygen plants under PM CARES. It said that till 15 June, of 162 PSA oxygen plants, 126 plants have already been installed in 32 states and the remaining plants would be installed by the end of June.

It also confirmed that the CMSS had received a total amount of Rs 201.58 crore from the PM CARES FUND.

Interestingly, even in the affidavit filed by the government with the Supreme Court in April 2021 had no mention about 150 oxygen plants for whom a tender had been floated in October 2020.

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So, here are the unanswered questions -

  • What happened to the 150 PSA oxygen plants for whom a tender had been floated in October 2020?
  • Why didn't the CMSS release any information about the 150 Oxygen plants under the RTI?
  • Why didn’t the government mention the October 2020 tender for 150 PSA oxygen plants in its affidavit filed with the Supreme Court?

The most important question is - Why didn’t the government act promptly and ramp up the installation of oxygen plants, when it was made aware back in mid-2020 that increasing oxygen supplies in hospitals is crucial?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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