Hindustan Times (East UP)

Oxygen: Beg, borrow, steal

The State must find a way to enable citizens to breathe. The oxygen shortage is a blot

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On Thursday, the home ministry ordered that there will be no restrictio­n on interstate and intra-state supply of oxygenrela­ted goods, and reiterated that the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes, except that exempted by the government, is strictly prohibited. The order came on the heels of three related developmen­ts. One, states and Union territorie­s such as Delhi alleged that their oxygen supply was being blocked by neighbouri­ng states. Second, hospitals moved the Delhi High Court, which directed the Centre to supply oxygen at any cost (and it speaks of the enormity of today’s crisis that hospitals have to go to court to find ways to procure and buy oxygen in the first place). And three, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to present a national road map on Covid-19 management, including the oxygen distributi­on plan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also chaired a high-level meeting to review oxygen supply across the country.

As the brutal second wave of the pandemic has hit India, there has been almost a war over oxygen cylinders among states, and between states and the Centre. This is both a symbol of an existing crisis in Indian federalism, as well as a further blow to the federal compact. And there is little doubt that the Centre has to take a larger share of the responsibi­lity. At a time when patients and their families are desperatel­y looking for hospital beds, medicines and oxygen, the Centre should play the role of an unbiased administra­tor, unveil a proper distributi­on pattern, and unclog the legal and administra­tive bottleneck­s to ensure fair and timely distributi­on of medical supplies. But that hasn’t happened so far because it failed to anticipate the scale of the crisis and need for oxygen.

Industry experts say India has the capacity to produce more than 7,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen, but the problem is there are not enough cylinders and tankers to store and transport it.

India also does not have enough cryogenic tankers to ensure 24×7 road transport of medical oxygen. There are also the problems of wastage and leakages in hospital pipelines that supply oxygen. Successive government­s have overlooked these issues, this government also took its eye off the ball, and citizens now are paying the price. As the Delhi High Court said, “beg, borrow, steal” — but find a way to help citizens to breathe.

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