Govt Tells Rajya Sabha 'No Oxygen Death Reported'; But What Do States Say?
An expert said oxygen is necessary for treatment and the failure of the system to provide it has to be acknowledged.
Despite an acute shortage of oxygen during the devastating second wave of COVID, Minister of State for Health and Family Planning Bharati Pravin Pawar on Tuesday, 20 July, told the Rajya Sabha that 'no deaths due to lack of oxygen have been specifically reported by states/UTs'.
This led to a political storm, with several Opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, Sanjay Raut, Satyender Jain, questioning the government’s “insensitive” claim.
Defending the government’s comment, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Sambit Patra on Wednesday, said that the Centre merely 'collects data' sent by states and does not 'generate' it.
Saying that the Centre’s bureaucratic response is contrary to the public experience, public health expert and epidemiologist Chandrakant Lahariya was quoted as saying by The Hindu, “They (The deaths) will be recorded as COVID deaths and a lack of oxygen will never be noted as an immediate cause. However, oxygen is necessary for treatment and the failure of the system to provide it has to be acknowledged."
What are different states saying? Did people not die due to a lack of oxygen?
Attacking the Union government for its claim on zero oxygen deaths being reported, Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said, "They will soon say there was no COVID-19. If there were no deaths due to lack of oxygen, why were hospitals going to high courts for shortages? This is completely false," ANI reported.
He explained, "We had formed an audit committee for oxygen to provide compensation to victims, which was stopped by the Centre through LG Anil Baijal."
"Now," he added, "The Centre is rubbing salt on wounds. We'll appeal to the LG to allow us to run the committee."
Batra Hospital, Delhi: Delhi's Batra Hospital had told the Delhi High Court on 1 May that 11 patients and a doctor at the hospital died due to oxygen shortage. The Executive Director, Sudhanshu Bankata, of the hospital had told the court that the hospital ran out of oxygen, because of which they lost the patients.
Jaipur Golden Hospital, Delhi: This hospital, too, had informed the Delhi High Court on 24 April that 25 people had died due to oxygen shortage.
Reacting to the Centre's claim, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said, "I am speechless. What would have happened to the families of those who lost their loved ones to oxygen shortage after hearing this statement?" ANI reported.
Raut added, "A case should be filed against the government. They are lying."
Meanwhile, taking a dig at the BJP, Shiv Sena Deputy leader Priyanka Chaturvedi said, "BJP is involved in vulture politics in Maharashtra. I'm openly challenging the Centre to reveal whether oxygen-related deaths occurred in the state or not. We gave a statement in Supreme Court and we're sticking to it. This shows their arrogance", ANI reported.
However, contradicting Raut, Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said, "No COVID patient died due to lack of oxygen in the state. We filed an affidavit to this effect in the court also. We had diverted 100 percent oxygen meant for industrial use for medical purposes."
Chhattisgarh Health Minister TS Singh Deo was quoted as saying, "It is true that no patient died due to the lack of oxygen in Chhattisgarh. We have been an oxygen-surplus state. There could have been some issues regarding management, otherwise, there is no death due to lack of oxygen", ANI reported.
He added they he heard about oxygen shortage in some hospitals of Delhi and other states, but it was up to the governments there on how to report it.
Taking a jibe at the Union government, Deo said, "At least they (Centre) admitted that health is a state subject. Otherwise, it appeared as if they are taking everything under their control. They take credit for all goods things and blame states for everything that is bad", ANI reported.
Meanwhile, Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel said, "In Uttar Pradesh, it was said that action would be taken even if a hospital puts up a board stating oxygen shortage. The entire country knows what happened in Delhi, how people died gasping for breath. Such statements are absurd and irresponsible."
Admitting that there had been a shortage of oxygen, Rajasthan Health Minister Raghu Sharma said, "CM sent three ministers to Delhi to demand a specific amount of oxygen during shortage. We needed 600 metric tons, but we just received 400. Our management was good so we averted huge mishaps."
State Health Secretary J Radhakrishna was quoted as saying, "There were no deaths due to the lack of oxygen in Tamil Nadu. We ensured the availability of an adequate quantity of oxygen at both government and private hospitals. There was a dedicated team looking after oxygen supplies."
Similarly, Tamil Nadu Health Minister M Subramaniam said, "There has been no death due to oxygen shortage in Tamil Nadu. The CM worked on a war footing to prevent this. When we faced lack of oxygen, we came in touch with the Centre at once and procured oxygen from them. So we didn't face a big impact here", ANI reported.
In Madhya Pradesh, Health Minister Prabhuram Choudhary said, "There was no death due to lack of oxygen. We had completed all arrangements. The CM facilitated oxygen via roads, railways, and air."
He added that though there had been problems over oxygen supply, the government promptly made arrangements.
Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey also backed the Centre and said that no one died of oxygen shortage in the state.
He was quoted as saying, "A total of 9,632 people have died of COVID-19 in Bihar so far but none of them died due to shortage of medical oxygen", India Today reported.
Pandey also blamed the Congress, saying that they don't want to help people. "They only raise issues during Parliament," he was quoted as saying.
Bihar's demand for medical oxygen saw a 14-fold increase during the second wave, the minister added. "But this did not result in any death," he said.
Hitting out at Pandey, former Health Minister Tej Pratap Yadav said, "Thousands of people have died due to shortage of medical oxygen in the state in the past few months. Despite this, the health minister is lying and is trying to fool the people."
A severe shortage of oxygen on Tuesday, 27 April, reportedly led to the deaths of at least seven COVID patients in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut.
Anand Hospital and KMC Hospital, Uttar Pradesh: At least seven COVID patients reportedly died in Uttar Pradesh's Meerut on 27 April. Three of them died at Anand Hospital while the rest breathed their last at KMC hospital. The hospital authorities had confirmed the deaths but Meerut's Chief Medical Officer Akhilesh Mohan had reportedly said that the hospitals hadn't provided any report on death of people due to oxygen shortage.
Reacting to the controversy, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani also claimed that no one died due to shortage of medical oxygen in the state during the second wave.
He was quoted as saying, "No COVID-19 patient died due to shortage of oxygen in our state. Nearly 8.5 lakh COVID-19 patients have been treated in Gujarat so far. We have several dedicated COVID-19 hospitals because of which lakhs of people have recovered and been discharged. No patient died due to lack of oxygen at any hospital in the state."
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government's claim, that no deaths related to oxygen supply were reported by states during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, has drawn sharp criticism from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who said that the government's response reflected lack of sensitivity.
Taking to Twitter, Gandhi wrote, "It wasn't just the lack of oxygen. Severe lack of sensitivity and truth — it was then, still is today."
(With inputs from ANI, The Hindu and India Today)
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