Oxygen requirement row: Someone made profit when Delhi gasped for breath

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Express News Service

Some Englishmen, statesmen in particular, who until very long ago were a household name in India, would be satisfied souls finding their words to be prophetic. Last week we talked of TS Eliot and his poem Hollow Men, this week it would be appropriate to quote the much polarising former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Historians claim Churchill to be anti-India but by his own admission he loved India. He, however, was worried about the kind of people who would come to govern the country. He once famously said, “Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; …men of straw. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles.”

For years now this statement has been dismissed as utterly racist, and it indeed is prejudiced. However, in private conversations this statement has often been referred to whenever our political class has indulged in degrading and debase acts. The statement is back in coinage ever since the Supreme Court-appointed committee’s report on the shortage of oxygen has become public.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders have variously defended their alleged act of artificially soaring up demand for oxygen four times over the actual quantity which was needed to avert the pandemic-induced catastrophe. While Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia has claimed that no such report exists, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has said he committed the act for safety of the people of Delhi.

In a move to overcome the image crisis faced by AAP government following the revelation, parts of the report have been released which records dissent by the two Delhi government members of the panel. Delhi government officials could not have been expected to act otherwise, it needs a lot of moral courage to stand up against the agency one is representing.

The report would not need a great analytical mind to interpret it. It says in simple words that while the actual oxygen requirement in Delhi was 289 MT, the Delhi government claimed it to be 1,140 MT, much higher than the actual demand calculated based on the bed-capacity formula.

The report further says that oxygen tankers could not be off-loaded at various hospitals on May 13 as their tanks already had over 75 per cent oxygen as per their capacity. The Delhi government’s own data too states that oxygen consumption in the city did not exceed 350 MT between April 29 and May 10.

While the political rivals of AAP have chosen the report to enter into a loud political skirmish, they are missing the woods for trees. Delhi’s load has been calculated on the bed-capacity formula, which suggests that there possibly was usage of oxygen through refilling plants in addition to that used in the hospitals.

In that case there are two points to be noted. First that Delhi lacks in health infrastructure (bed capacity in hospitals), something which has been written about in detail in these columns through the period of second wave of the pandemic. Second, oxygen supply meant for these hospitals was siphoned out to refilling plants, and here the names of the four hospitals Singhal, Aruna Asaf Ali, ESIC and Liferay matter.

They are reported to have ‘consumed’ more than their capacity. According to the report, ‘actual consumption’ in 183 hospitals as per Delhi government projections was 1,140 MT, but according to information supplied by hospitals, the actual consumption was only 209 MT. If the Centre-recommended formula for oxygen allotment had been employed, the requirement would have been at best 289 MT. 

So, who consumed the oxygen? This may just be a trailer to the revelation of a very sordid scam. Supreme Court has flagged the issue; will the political class show the will to remove the lid over the can of worms? Only time would tell.

Sidharth Mishra
Author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice



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