Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Saturday criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and said that he had passed on the responsibility to the states during the second wave of the outbreak, reported PTI.

“There are never-ending queues everywhere,” Gandhi said in an interview to the news agency. “There are queues to get an oxygen cylinder, queues to refill the cylinder, queues to get life-saving medicines, queues to get a hospital bed, and now there are queues outside crematoriums. There is a fatal shortage of every single item we need to tackle Covid-19.”

Gandhi said that the government had ignored warnings from scientists that the coronavirus situation would get worse, saying that the country could have been better prepared. He said that even now the government was missing in action and was focusing on “saving the prime minister’s image and blaming others”.

Gandhi criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre for operating with a “rely on yourself” motto. “The new buzzword is that the ‘system’ has failed,” he told PTI. “Who is this ‘system’? Who runs the ‘system’? It’s just a ploy to avoid admitting responsibility.”

The Congress leader pointed out that the Narendra Modi government had an entire year to prepare for this crisis but instead no thought was given into the long-term state of the healthcare system. Gandhi said that the Centre made no arrangements to build for the subsequent waves of the Covid-19 pandemic that almost every other country had experienced.

“It was sheer luck that we emerged out of last year’s nightmare, to a point where we had less than 10,000 new cases in a day early in 2021,” he told PTI. “We were not testing enough then. We are not testing enough now. Where was the preparation for this massive second wave? Why were the jumbo facilities put up last year dismantled? Why did they raise oxygen exports over 700% – think of that number, 700% – in the months before this brutal second wave?”

The Congress leader said that instead of declaring victory over Covid-19, the Centre should have set up massive capacity for testing, oxygen, ventilators and hospital beds. He claimed that the Modi government also did not “act on scientific advice or evidence”.

“They continuously ignored rising cases and were busy instead with election campaigns,” Gandhi said in the interview to PTI. “They encouraged super-spreader events. They even bragged about them. Our prime minister and home minister were not even wearing masks in public over the past few months.”

Gandhi was referring to the prime minister’s rally on April 18 in West Bengal’s Purba Bardhaman district where he had praised the large crowd that had gathered. Amid the massive surge in Covid-19 cases, the BJP had limited its gatherings in the state to 500 two days later.

The Congress leader highlighted that India had been under the Epidemic Act for more than a year, which gives the Centre “absolute power over the states”. “This is a government that wants to control everything,” he told PTI. “When cases went down, they declared victory, and the Prime Minister took all the credit as he always does. Now that the situation is terrible, why are you blaming the states?”

A worker of a wholesale supplier prepares to load a medical oxygen cylinder in a car that is to be transported to a hospital amid the Covid-19 pandemic in New Delhi on April 24. Credit: Sajjad Hussain/AFP.

He also said that after taking tens of thousands of crores as donation under the PM Cares fund, the Modi government completely set up only 33 out of 162 Pressure Swing Absorption plants. These setups can enable hospitals for in-situ generation of oxygen.

It takes four to six weeks to install a PSA oxygen plant, industry executives told However, four months after the contracts were given, only 33 were installed.

A investigation revealed that the central government took eight months to float a tender and six months later, PSA oxygen plants were operational in only five of the 60 hospitals we called. Hours after the report was published, the health ministry admitted that only 33 of the 162 PSA oxygen plants it had commissioned had been installed.

“The states have rejected the sub-standard ventilators supplied by the Centre through these funds,” Gandhi said on Saturday, according to PTI. “States do not even get their GST [Goods and Services Tax] dues on time. States are dependent on the Modi government for quotas of oxygen, remdesivir and tocilizumab injections.”

On Saturday, Congress President Sonia Gandhi urged the Centre to come up with a national policy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. She stressed upon the need to forge a consensus among all political parties about the policy.

India recorded 3,92,488 cases on Sunday. With this, the country’s tally of infections rose to 1,95,57,457 since the pandemic began last year. The toll climbed to 2,15,542 after 3,689 additional deaths were registered in 24 hours.

The country is struggling to keep up with the rising demand of medical oxygen. The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented rise in the demand for beds, ventilators, oxygen supplies and drugs as hospitals struggle to hold together the country’s healthcare infrastructure.

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