The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is receiving flak, and rightly so, for the insensitive reply given in the Rajya Sabha on 20th July, by Mansukh Mandaviya, and Dr Bharati Pawar, the newly appointed minister and minister of state, respectively, for health and family welfare, stating that there have been “no deaths due to lack of oxygen as has been specifically reported by the states and Union Territories (UTs)”. Members of Parliament (MPs) MV Shreyams Kumar, and KC Venugopal, had asked the question about number of patients, who died due to shortage of oxygen and lack of hospital facilities in the country.
However, replies received under Right to Information (RTI) Act show that premier and prestigious central government hospitals in Delhi and across the country fuelled the BJP reply as they have categorically and candidly stated that there was not a single death due to shortage of oxygen supply! At least, till mid-May, the period of RTI reply!
If one goes by the rule under the RTI Act that “… information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person’’, young law student and member of The Legal Squad, Aniket Gaurav indeed got justice (for a change). He filed RTI applications to central government’s leading public hospitals seeking information on:
Whether the ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW) or any other department under the government of India is maintaining the records or statistics for number of deaths in the country due to lack of hospital arrangements amid the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic. If so, then:
Details about number of deaths in hospitals owing to shortage of oxygen, till date;
Details about number of deaths in hospitals owing to shortage of ventilators and;
Details on number of people who died due to lack of beds in hospitals.
New-Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), replied that as for the shortage of oxygen, “as informed by the faculty in charge, Manifold AIIMS, that medical oxygen is being administered to COVID patients is adequate amount as per their clinical need”; that “no death is reported due to shortage of ventilators and AIIMS has no information about any deaths due to lack of beds”.
The department of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at Safdarjang Hospital replied that information about deaths due to shortage of oxygen and deaths due to lack of beds is not held by this office and that, there is no shortage of ventilators.
The AIIMS at Rajpur in Chattisgarh, replied that there were no deaths due to lack of oxygen; and 185 ventilators were made available by mid-May for 900 beds. The Rajpur AIIMS also replied that it has a 487 bedded COVID hospital including 81 intensive care unit (ICU) beds as of mid-May and no deaths due to shortages.
A string of other noted hospitals – the AIIMS at Jodhpur; AIIMS at Patna; AIIMS at Bhopal and AIIMS at Bhubaneshwar; The Lady Hardinge Medical College & Smt SK Hospital at New Delhi and; The North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health & Medical Sciences at Shillong also replied that there were no deaths at all due to oxygen shortage ventilator shortage or lack of beds in its hospital.
Aniket tweeted on Wednesday that, “Various Delhi govt hospitals reply ranging from ‘NIL’ to sufficient arrangements to tackle COVID situation" to an RTI asking about the number of deaths due to shortage of oxygen, ventilators, beds suggests that no one died because of the same.
By the way, MP Venu Gopal had asked in the Rajya Sabha whether:
(a) whether it is a fact that a large number of COVID-19 patients died on roads and hospitals due to acute shortage of oxygen in the second wave;
(b) the total demand of oxygen by the states and total oxygen supplied, State-wise during the last three months; and
(c) the steps government has taken so that there will be no shortage of oxygen in the country as the experts are of the view that third wave can also come in which large number of patients will require oxygen?
Minister of state Dr Pawar replied that: “(a): Health is a state subject. Detailed guidelines for reporting of deaths have been issued by union health ministry to all states/UTs. Accordingly, all states and UTs report cases and deaths to union health ministry on a regular basis. However, no deaths due to lack of oxygen have been specifically reported by states and UTs. However, government of India has supported the states and undertook a series of actions including provisioning medical oxygen, and other consumables to ensure clinical care of COVID-19 patients in view of steep rise of COVID-19 trajectory in the country during April-May 2021.”
“(b): The supply of medical oxygen to hospitals is determined by contractual arrangements between the concerned hospital and the medical oxygen supplier. However, due to unprecedented surge in demand of medical oxygen during the second wave – the demand in the country peaked to nearly 9000 MT as compared to 3095 MT during the first wave – the Central government had to step in to facilitate equitable distribution to the states. A dynamic and transparent framework for allocation of medical oxygen in consultation with states and UTs and all the stakeholders such as relevant ministries, manufacturers or suppliers of liquid oxygen etc. was prepared.”
So, for family members of the hundreds of thousands of patients who were gasping for breath and died due to lack of oxygen supply across the country and for every citizen of this country who went through a turmoil, seeing the pathetic state of public health affairs, this is like rubbing salt into the wounds.
The government has shown its heartlessness by picking up a technical thread that is gone in black and white on official record, thus spreading pain and distress across the country.