A day after Scroll.in reported that several states were yet to hear about their share of Covid-19 relief supplies sent by other countries, the Central government said on Tuesday that the material had been dispatched to 31 states and Union territories. “All possible attempts have been made to distribute them immediately,” the statement released by the Union health ministry said.

However, interviews with state officials revealed that the distribution process itself began as late as Monday evening, May 3, more than a week after the first batch of emergency Covid-19 assistance arrived in India.

Between April 28 and May 2, 300 tonnes of relief materials landed at Delhi airport, a spokesperson of the airport had told Scroll.in. We emailed the health ministry on May 2, seeking information on the status of the supplies. The email went unanswered. The next day, officials of seven state health departments, including Delhi, told us they had not received any supplies from the Centre.

The same evening, May 3, officials of the Central government’s think-tank Niti Aayog held a meeting with state officials to discuss the foreign aid arriving in India. Soon after, state officials received emails from the Centre informing them about the relief supplies that had been allocated to their states.

Punjab was allocated 2,000 remdesivir injections and 150 oxygen concentrators, 100 of which reached the state on Tuesday morning. “We got information yesterday that we will get this much,” said Hussan Lal, Punjab’s health secretary.

Odisha was informed that it had been allocated 2,295 remdesivir injections, said Pradipta Kumar Mohapatra, additional chief secretary in the health department. The injections are yet to reach Odisha.

Jharkhand’s health department similarly acknowledged that it had been informed by the Centre about its allocation on Monday evening. Officials said it was still waiting for the supplies to arrive.

West Bengal health officials, however, claimed they have not received any communication from the Centre about the allocations made to their state, as of Tuesday evening. “So far, we have received no intimation,” said the state’s health secretary Narayan Swaroop Nigam. “We are still trying to find out.”

On Tuesday, however, Odisha wrote to the Centre asking for oxygen cylinders, concentrators, tanks, ventilators, among other supplies. “Although we are not in a distress condition, if India has received foreign aid we should also get part of it,” said Mohapatra.

Standard operating procedure

The health ministry said it had received 40 lakh pieces of 24 different items, including oxygen cylinders, concentrators, pulse oximeters and medicines, in foreign aid so far.

Since the grant is limited in quantity, it has to be optimally utilised by allocation to “high burden states”, the statement said. “Spreading such grant in aid thinly each time, over a large number of states may not bring forth the desired results.”

The statement said the aid had been distributed to 86 institutions in different states. However, it listed only 33 medical facilities, all of which are run by the Central government, not all of them located in high-burden states. No hospital in Maharashtra, which is the worst affected state, features on the list. This raises questions about the fairness of the allocation.

The statement said consignments of Covid-19 assistance are received by the India Red Cross Society at Delhi Airport, which hands it over to the HLL Lifecare Limited, a central government company.

On Tuesday, India Today reported that the Centre had taken seven days to notify the procedure to distribute these supplies to states, appointing HLL Lifecare as the distribution manager as late as May 2.

While the health ministry issued a rejoinder claiming that the story was “misleading”, the rebuttal confirmed that the “Standard Operating Procedure for allocations was issued by the Health Ministry on 2nd May, 2021”.