As India continues to battle a record surge in daily Covid-19 cases, the debate over shortage of oxygen has become a tug-of-war between Centre and the Delhi government. The Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government alleged less supplies of oxygen while the Centre said that it was the state government that was unable to manage logistics of the supply chain and had not arranged for tankers to bring in oxygen.
The Delhi High Court on Saturday pulled up the Kejriwal government over non-arrangement of cryogenic tanks for getting oxygen supply as hospitals across the national capital are running out of oxygen and lives are being lost due to the shortage.
During the high court hearing, Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said that all states including non-industrial ones, except Delhi, have made arrangements for converting existing tankers for storage of oxygen or are procuring it from other sources.
The Centre had made an allocation of 480MT of oxygen daily for Delhi which the state needs to pick by arranging for cryogenic tankers. However, the state argued that it was getting only 380 MT oxygen per day over the past few days and it had received less than 300 MT on Friday. The Centre, on the other hand, said that it had mapped sources of oxygen to their destinations and deployed the Indian Air Force (IAF) to help fly empty oxygen tankers.
“Let the Delhi government take steps in this regard (make arrangements for Cryogenic tanks) in coordination with the sub-group formed by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, in case the Cryogenic tanks are in short supply. We make it clear that the efforts of Delhi government has to make in this regard cannot be trivalised and they should not leave it entirely to the Central government to act in this regard,” the Delhi HC said in its order issued later in the day. It said the Delhi government should make “all-out efforts” for procurement of such tankers from whatever source they can be made available and look for all possible avenues.
“The problem is you think allocation is done so everything will be served at your doorstep. Why didn’t you look for tankers? Your political head has himself been an administrative officer,” the court observed.
Another major issue which emerged was the confusion over which hospital in Delhi would get how much oxygen and from which supplier, with the Centre saying that the Delhi government was not being able to manage internal logistics.
A leading oxygen supplier wrote to the Delhi government on Saturday that while the Centre had directed it on April 21 to supply 105 MT of oxygen daily to 45 hospitals in Delhi, the Delhi government on April 23 had asked it to supply 98 MTs of oxygen daily to 17 hospitals alone. The supplier asked the Delhi government to clarify if other gas suppliers would cater to requirements of the other hospitals with which it has a contract.
Oxygen supplier INOX Air Products wrote to the Kejriwal government, saying that it was providing oxygen to 45 hospitals in the national capital as a part of contract, and has been directed by the Centre’s Empowered Group of Officers to supply 105 MTs of Oxygen daily to these hospitals. The supplier said that its plants were working at full capacity but the demands of the 45 hospitals were much more than 105 MT per day. The company further cited allocation orders from the Delhi government on April 22 and April 23 to supply 98 MTs of Oxygen daily to 17 hospitals alone.
“As you can see, the total daily allocation of 98 MT (out of 105 MT) is to be supplied to only 17 hospitals. However, we reiterate that INOX has contractual obligations to supply Oxygen to 45 hospitals. Accordingly, we request you to kindly allocate the responsibility of supplying Oxygen to balance 28 hospitals to the other gas suppliers,” the company wrote to the Delhi government.
The Union government officials claimed that while oxygen allocations were given by Delhi government to 12 suppliers in all, they were not told clearly which hospitals to cater to.
However, Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia said that the state government was running a 24-hour oxygen supply war room and a team led by officers was working hard to respond to all SOS calls from hospitals if the vendor had not met their oxygen demand. Sisodia said that he was himself in the war room till midnight on Friday.
The AAP government also said that it wanted 700 MTs of oxygen daily and had asked the Centre to increase its allocation from 480 MTs at present, out of which it is receiving only about 380 MTs leading to the scarcity of oxygen.