Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia on Thursday said that it was difficult to ascertain if there were any deaths due to shortage of oxygen during the second coronavirus wave in the national Capital.

Sisodia made the statement amid an exchange of arguments with Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya. On Tuesday, Sisodia had claimed that it has not received any letter from the Centre seeking details on deaths due to oxygen shortage.

A day later, Mandaviya rebutted the claim, saying that his ministry had sent a mail to the Delhi government on the matter. He also shared a screenshot of the communication in a tweet. He asked the Delhi government to send the details by Friday.

The Centre had asked the states and Union Territories to share data on deaths due to lack of oxygen in the last week of July.

On Thursday, the deputy chief minister brushed aside the argument about the letter and said that the important matter was if there were any oxygen-related deaths.

Sisodia said that around 25,000 citizens have died due to Covid-19 in Delhi but an inquiry would be needed to find out how many of the fatalities were because of the shortage of oxygen.

“Saying that there were no deaths due to oxygen shortage in Delhi merely on the basis of some figures of the government file will not only be wrong but also be like mocking those who lost their near ones during the oxygen crisis,” he said.

The deputy chief minister said that the Delhi government had set up a high-level expert committee to investigate the matter of deaths due to oxygen shortage and provide compensation to the families of the deceased. However, the Centre stopped this through Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, he alleged.

“On one hand the Centre is saying give us data and on the other it is stopping the state government from conducting an inquiry,” Sisodia said. “How will we get the data then?”

The deputy chief minister said that he has written to Mandaviya on the matter. “We are sending the file again to the Delhi LG for approval,” Sisodia said, asking the Union health minster to inform the Baijal not to reject the committee.

Admitting that there was an “oxygen crisis” in the national Capital, Sisodia said that the Centre has adopted a “very irresponsible and insensitive attitude” and refused to accept that there were any such deaths.

On July 20, Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar had told the Parliament that states did not specifically report any deaths due to oxygen shortages. Opposition leaders and health experts derided the Centre for making such a claim, saying that the response was rather bureaucratic and reflected its denial mode.

On Tuesday, Joint Secretary in the Union Health Ministry Lav Agarwal had said that only one state had reported a “suspected death” due to oxygen shortages, reported ANI. He, however, did not mention which state he was referring to.

Oxygen shortages

India struggled with a grave oxygen crisis in the second wave of the pandemic in April-May. The shortages of the life-saving gas as well as medicines and hospital beds forced families and friends of patients to plead for help on social media. Hospitals sent out SOS messages as their oxygen stocks ran dangerously low.

On May 1, at least 12 patients died at the Batra Hospital in Delhi after the facility fell short of oxygen. The hospital had confirmed that the deaths had taken place because of lack of oxygen.

On April 23, at least 20 patients under critical care died at Jaipur Golden Hospital in North West Delhi. The hospital cited a dip in oxygen pressure and approached the High Court to seek help in maintaining continuous supply.