COVID Surge | We Need a War Room Immediately: Vinayak Chatterjee 

Infra expert Vinayak Chatterjee explains what can be done to ensure an efficient supply of oxygen.

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In an interview with The Quint’s Editorial Director Sanjay Pugalia, Infra expert Vinayak Chatterjee explains why India is facing an oxygen shortage and what can be done to ensure efficient supply hereon.

Here are some excerpts from the conversation. For the full interview, watch the video above.

In one of your tweets you said, who would have imagined one month earlier that oxygen will become India’s critical infrastructure mission. Please explain that.

“There is a lot of blame-game happening surrounding the current COVID crisis. Around early March and late February, all of us, the entire Indian society, in many ways became complacent. Not just political but the whole system has failed to anticipate the threat. How many media persons raised a flag between October 2020 and March 2021 signalling ‘we are sitting on a volcano’? Media didn’t do it. Neither did independent institutions like the Election Commission postpone elections, nor did courts recognise that a calamity was coming.”

Why didn’t we amp up our health system after the first wave?

“Oxygen demand and supply is not imbalanced at the national level. The sudden spike in demand of medical oxygen came from a specific region of the country. Surprisingly, the oxygen supply comes from eastern and southern India and the demand is coming from northern and western India. The regional imbalance brought bottlenecks of supply container and transportation. Oxygen cylinders and cryogenic containers are other aspects of this bottleneck. Besides oxygen, there are shortages of hospital beds, medicines etc. Which brings my first point again that as a society we are all collectively responsible for underestimating what could have happened.”

Why does the Centre fail to develop the ‘invisible infrastructure?’

“India has not been spending on ‘soft infrastructure’ like education and healthcare for decades.”

What can be done immediately to solve the oxygen crisis?

“A war room needs to be set up immediately for handling this second wave that could persist in the upcoming months. There are also fears of a third wave because places like Europe have witnessed it. This problem should be given to a technocratic leader who is allowed to develop an operation research team. They will come up with scenario planning and accordingly make recommendations to the government, and the government act on procurement.”

Is there no war room yet?

“There are several war rooms operating at different levels but we require a holistic approach which purely tackles the technical matters, managing operational problems like demand and supply, under different constraints and assumptions.”

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