Amid the row, Maharashtra, where the Congress, Shiv Sena and the NCP are in power, and BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat maintained that there were no deaths due to oxygen shortage in these states, while Delhi's Health Minister and AAP leader Satyendar Jain said there have been many such fatalities in the national capital and other places across the country.
Opposition parties on Wednesday stepped up attack on the Centre over its statement that no deaths due to oxygen shortage were reported by states and UTs during the second COVID-19 wave, alleging it was trying to hide its mistakes by “lying”, but the BJP accused them of doing politics on the issue and pointed out their own governments in states did not report such fatalities.
Amid the row, Maharashtra, where the Congress, Shiv Sena and the NCP are in power, and BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat maintained that there were no deaths due to oxygen shortage in these states, while Delhi’s Health Minister and AAP leader Satyendar Jain said there have been many such fatalities in the national capital and other places across the country.
“It is completely false and wrong to say that no one died due to oxygen shortage… The Centre is rubbing salt into the wounds of those who have lost their loved ones… Tomorrow, they will say there have been no deaths due to COVID-19,” Jain said.
He said the Centre did not ask for data related to such deaths but the city government had tried ascertaining the number on its own by setting up the panel which the “Centre got the panel disbanded through the Lieutenant Governor.”
Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia also charged the Centre with trying to “hide its faults” and alleged that its “mismanagement” and change in oxygen distribution policy after April 13 caused the shortage of oxygen in the hospitals across the country, leading to a “disaster”.
“We all saw what happened in April-May. Media has reported on it, and I was getting messages from officials at hospitals and people were requesting for help, complaining about lack of oxygen,” he said.
“But, now the central government has shamelessly lied in Parliament,” he alleged.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra alleged that the fatalities happened because the government increased oxygen exports in the pandemic year and did not arrange tankers to transport it.
“‘No death due to lack of oxygen’: Central Government. The deaths happened because — in the pandemic year, the government increased oxygen exports by about 700 percent,” she tweeted.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said people whose relatives died due to oxygen shortage during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic should “take the Union government to court”. Many people have died due to oxygen shortage in several states. Those whose relatives (COVID-19 patients) died due to oxygen shortage should take the Union government to court.
“The Union government is running away from the truth. It seems it is the effect of Pegasus (Israeli spyware),” the Rajya Sabha member said sarcastically, referring to the phone-tapping allegations.
However, the Maharashtra government, of which Shiv Sena is a part, said the state never reported any death due to a shortage of oxygen during the second wave of COVID-19.
“We never said people died due to oxygen shortage in the state. Many of them had issues like co-morbidities and other illnesses. No death has taken place due to the shortage of oxygen,” state Health Minister Rajesh Tope told reporters while replying to a query.
Madhya Pradesh Health Minister Prabhuram Choudhary too said that there has been no death on account of a shortage of medical oxygen in the BJP-ruled state.
“There was no death due to shortage of oxygen, It is true that there were problems with the availability of oxygen, but the state government ensured supply,” he told reporters.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani also said there was no such death in the state.
Countering the opposition’s allegations, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra noted that the central government’s reply was based on the figures provided by states and UTs as health is a state subject.
No state sent any data about patients dying due to oxygen shortage, he asserted and accused opposition leaders, including former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, of doing politics on the matter.
He said the states where these parties are in power have claimed that no one died there due to lack of oxygen.
The opposition-ruled states had spoken about patients dying due to the oxygen crisis when the second wave was peaking as they wanted to target the Modi government but have taken a different stand in writing and their submission to courts, he said, adding that it shows they want to politicise the whole issue.
The Maharashtra government also told Bombay High Court that no one died due to the oxygen shortage and Chhattisgarh Health Minister T S Singh Deo has also made similar claims, the BJP spokesperson said.
Rahul Gandhi should speak to the chief ministers in the states where his party is in power instead of “lying” on Twitter and spreading confusion, he said.
It is not that the central government has tied their hands, and they should have spoken the truth when they were asked to submit their response in writing, he asserted.
With the AAP also targeting the Modi government over its reply in Rajya Sabha, Patra noted that a Delhi government committee had told the high court that there was no evidence to suggest that around 21 people had died due to a shortage of oxygen in Jaipur Golden hospital on April 23-24 night after the hospital management reported the matter.
But, Sisodia said, if the Centre gives its nod to the inquiry committee set up by the Delhi government, then all deaths reportedly caused due to shortage of oxygen during the second wave of COVID-19 in the city will be independently probed.
“The central government is repeatedly lying by saying that states have not given them any figures. But, when you will not allow the states to investigate the deaths due to lack of oxygen, where will the figures come from,” he asked
“It changed its oxygen distribution policy after April 13 which led to a total disaster. The Centre will have to take responsibility for this,” the AAP leader told reporters.
On Tuesday, responding to a question on whether a large number of COVID-19 patients died on roads and in hospitals due to acute shortage of oxygen in the second wave, Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar in a written reply in Rajya Sabha had said that health is a state subject and states and UTs regularly report the number of cases and deaths to the Centre.
“Detailed guidelines for reporting of deaths have been issued by the Union Health Ministry to all states and UTs.
“Accordingly, all states and UTs report cases and deaths to the Union Health Ministry on a regular basis. However, no deaths due to lack of oxygen have been specifically reported by states and UTs,” Pawar had said.
But there was an unprecedented surge in demand for medical oxygen during the second wave and it peaked at nearly 9,000 MT compared to 3,095 MT in the first wave following which the Centre had to step in to facilitate equitable distribution among the states, the minister said.
Shortly after the statement, AICC General Secretary K C Venugopal accused the minister of having “misled” the house.
Venugopal, a Rajya Sabha MP to whose question the reply was given, said he will move a privilege motion against the minister.