Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Sunday claimed that the Centre reduced the number of hospital beds in India between September 2020 and January 2021. She asked the government why it did so despite expert’s warnings about an inevitable second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a video message shared on Twitter, Vadra claimed that within that time period, the government reduced the number of oxygen beds by 36%, intensive care unit beds by 46% and ventilator beds by 28%.

Vadra also claimed that the Bharatiya Janata Party reduced the country’s health budget by 20% when it came to power in 2014. “They promised AIIMS [All India Institute of Medical Sciences] all over the place, they promised district facilities to be upgraded, but they did nothing,” she claimed. “Instead, the Central Vista project was declared an essential service with people working day in and day out to complete it by 2023.”

Gandhi asked the government whether the Central Vista project was more important than the health of Indians.

The Opposition has heavily criticised the Centre for going ahead with the Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista project to build a new Parliament building and residences for the prime minister and the vice president, amid the devastation caused by the second wave of the pandemic in India.

On May 31, the Delhi High held that Central Vista was an “essential project of national importance” and refused to stop work on it. The court claimed that the public interest litigation filed against the project was “motivated” and fined the petitioners Rs 1 lakh.

The Narendra Modi government had claimed that it was maintaining Covid-19 protocol at the site, which included masking up, sanitisation and thermal screening, and that it had arranged for testing, medical aid and isolation in the event someone fell ill. It also claimed that contractors had provided health insurance to their workers.

However, found that three workers at the construction site have tested positive for the infection. Many also complained of cramped living conditions – inside tents, tin sheds, metal containers – that had made physical distancing impossible. The supervisor, who oversaw around 30 workers engaged in road construction work on the 3.2-km stretch between Rajpath and Rashtrapati Bhawan, also said that neither he nor the other workers had been insured by the company.

Across Delhi, most construction projects were put on hold since the lockdown rules allowed only projects with workers staying on the site to operate. But an exception had been made for the Central Vista project, which was declared an “essential service”, with permissions to bring workers on buses. On May 29, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority had allowed construction activities to resume with certain protocols in place.

The Centre has also been criticised in general for its handling of the Covid-19 crisis. India struggled with a grave oxygen crisis in the second wave of the pandemic. The acute shortages of the life-saving gas, medicines and 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.