Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday asked state governments to “come down heavily” on those who are hoarding oxygen used to treat coronavirus patients as several states in the country faced shortages.
He told officials to ensure that oxygen is supplied to various states “in a smooth, unhindered manner” and asked them to hold the local administration responsible in cases of obstruction. He also asked ministries to explore “various innovative ways” to increase production and supply of oxygen.
The deliberations were held at a high-level meeting chaired by the prime minister to review India’s escalating oxygen emergency. So far, the government has banned non-medical use of oxygen except in nine industries, and tanks of it are being shuttled across the country to keep up with the demand.
But the situation is far from improving.
Major hospitals in the Capital have nearly ran out of oxygen for three consecutive days now. Oxygen cylinders were looted in a Madhya Pradesh town on Wednesday, while Haryana and Delhi governments trader charges over oxygen blockades. In Maharashtra, at least 24 died when a leak in a hospital’s main oxygen tank cut the flow of oxygen to Covid-19 patients.
At Thursday’s meeting, Modi stressed on the need to ensure faster transportation of oxygen to the states, according to a release by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Officials, in turn, informed Modi that various measures were being undertaken to rapidly increase the availability of cryogenic tankers through conversion of nitrogen and argon tankers, import and airlifting of tankers as well as manufacturing them, according to the statement.
“PM was informed that an elaborate exercise is being done in co-ordination with the states to identify their demand for oxygen and ensure adequate supply accordingly,” it said. “PM was briefed on how oxygen supply to states is steadily increasing.
The release said that against the present demand from 20 states of 6,785 metric tonnes per day of Liquid Medical Oxygen, the Centre has from April 21, allocated 6,822 metric tonnes per day to these states.
The officials added that they were also working together with the states to operationalise the sanctioned PSA oxygen plants as soon as possible. However, a Scroll.in investigation has revealed that out of the 60 hospitals across 14 states where these new oxygen plants are expected to come up, only 11 units had been installed and just five were operational.
India in the middle of an unprecedented second wave of the pandemic. On Thursday, the country reported 3,12,731 new infections, the most recorded in any country on a single day. For the first time, 2,104 deaths were reported in 24 hours.
The surge in cases has overwhelmed the country’s healthcare infrastructure. As per an analysis by Scroll.in, India’s daily requirement of medical oxygen is currently more than double the amount that has been exempted from industrial use – 4,600 metric tonnes. And the country may run out of stocks in a few weeks even if all industrial oxygen is diverted to medical use.
Modi cancels West Bengal tour
Meanwhile, Modi cancelled his poll rally in West Bengal scheduled for Friday and said he will chair high-level meetings on the coronavirus situation instead.
Elections in West Bengal are being held, despite the surge in coronavirus cases. Huge elections rallies, including by Modi, were also not halted in the state, where thousands of supporters not wearing masks gathered with little regard to physical distancing.
Earlier on Thursday, the Calcutta High Court said it was “unable to reconcile with the fact” that the Election Commission of India had failed to take any steps beyond “issuing curriculars” to tackle the surge of coronavirus infections in West Bengal while conducting the Assembly elections there.