New Delhi: Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Saturday once again launched a direct attack on the central government over the oxygen crisis in the country during the second wave of the Covid pandemic, saying the government increased oxygen export by 700 per cent in 2020.
In a Facebook post, the Congress leader said that as the second wave of Covid-19 raged, almost every Indian state began reporting a shortage of oxygen.
The Uttar Pradesh Congress in-charge also said that SOS calls for oxygen cylinders and oxygen beds in hospitals throughout India flooded social media and all other mediums of public appeal.
“Many died gasping for air, while others watched helplessly as their loved ones breathed their last without access to this most basic of medical facilities. Who is responsible for the lack of oxygen in hospitals across India?” she asked.
In her post she further stated that India is not an oxygen “deficient” country. The oxygen producing industry in India was incentivised by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s government to supplement the steel industry back in the 1950s and 60s. This laid the foundation for a robust infrastructure that enables India to produce 7,500 MT of oxygen per day. Just to give you an idea of the requirement for medical oxygen in India, let’s look at the oxygen consumption of all Indian hospitals put together at the peak of the second covid wave.
Citing examples she said that India produced 7,603 MT of Oxygen per day on May 1, 8,920 MT per day on May 6, 8,944 MT per day on May 9 and 8,344 MT per day on May 20.
She said that at its height, this figure was 8944 MT. This means that the oxygen shortfall at the peak of this wave was less than 1500 MT.
“So, what went wrong?” she questioned.
Attacking the government, Gandhi said, “The (Narendra) Modi government increased its oxygen exports by over 700 per cent in the year 2020, a pandemic year. Most of this supply went to Bangladesh. It also made no investments towards the early import of surplus oxygen.”
She also alleged that in a shocking example of incompetence, the Modi government made no effort to arrange for the transport of oxygen from oxygen producing facilities to the hospitals of India in case of an oxygen emergency.
“Since the primary use of oxygen until the pandemic hit was industrial, India is estimated to have only 1200-1600 specialised cryogenic tankers available to transport oxygen across the country. In the time between the first and the second wave, the Modi government did nothing to increase this number or to put in place a logistical contingency plan for the re-diversion of industrial oxygen to oxygen used at medical facilities,” she said.
She also alleged that by the end of the first wave it was clear that one of the essential treatment requirements for Covid-19 was medical oxygen. “In fact, the government floated tenders for 150 oxygen producing plants to be set up in 2020, however most of them are non-functional,” the Congress leader said.
She also said that the government’s own Empowered Group-VI warned of an impending oxygen shortage in April 2020, over a year ago. “The government completely ignored this warning,” she said, adding that the Parliamentary Committee on Health stated in its report in October 2020 that the price of oxygen cylinders should be controlled.
“However, it rose from Rs 4,000 in 2020 to Rs 7,000 in 2021. Similarly, the refill price of cylinders also rose from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000 during the same period. Like most of the other recommendations made by the committee, this too fell on deaf years,” she alleged.
She also pointed out that while state governments kept flagging the shortage of oxygen to the Centre, the inhuman government approached the courts in an effort to reduce the oxygen quota for the states.
“In fact, the Modi government needlessly politicised the supply of oxygen, making it arbitrary and dependent on the party to which the Chief Minister of a given state belonged,” she said.
Slamming the government, Priyanka Gandhi said that it was clear that the Modi government’s lack of planning and incompetence is responsible for the shortage of oxygen that devastated lives in the second wave.
Posing questions to the government, she asked, “Why were no steps taken to ensure a contingency supply of oxygen? Why was the advice of the Empowered Group-VI summarily ignored? Why was no provision made for increasing the number of cryogenic tankers, when by all accounts a second wave was imminent?
“Today, industrial oxygen is being re-diverted for medical usage. Why did the Modi Government increase its oxygen exports by over 700 per cent in 2020, the very year that the pandemic ravaged the world? Why were the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Health ignored and consequently, no control exercised on the price of oxygen cylinders and their refilling?” she added.