Amid rising prices, crores of rupees wasted on unnecessary surveillance of critics and dissenters, growing from loss loved ones and friends, increasing excise duty on petrol to fill government treasury and anticipation of Covid third wave government has dropped a new bomb. The government has blatantly and outrightly denied the ‘specific’ role of lack of oxygen in deaths during the Covid 19 second wave.
If the minister of state is confronted about this ‘specific role’, he can twist words all day long. What is specific? And how does the government define the specific role of lack of oxygen in Covid related deaths?
Even an outsider who does not know Indian society knows that a number of people died because the state failed to provide primary healthcare. On Tuesday, Union Minister of State for health and family welfare Bharati Pravin Pawar informed Rajya Sabha about no role of lack of oxygen in deaths. The minister, in a written reply, said that guidelines on the standard operating procedure for reporting deaths were issued by the union health ministry to all the states and union territories.
States say no deaths recorded due to oxygen shortage
“It is true that no patient died due to the lack of oxygen in Chhattisgarh. We have been an oxygen-surplus state. There could have been some issues regarding management, otherwise, there is no death due to lack of oxygen,” said Chhattisgarh Health Minister TS Singh Deo.
Tamil Nadu Health Secretary J Radhakrishna added, “There were no deaths due to the lack of oxygen in Tamil Nadu. We ensured the availability of an adequate quantity of oxygen in both government and private hospitals. There was a dedicated team looking after oxygen supplies.”
All the states and union territories followed those guidelines to report cases and deaths because of coronavirus to the union health ministry. These reports concluded that have been no deaths specifically due to lack of oxygen in the states and union territories. The government, on the other hand, acknowledges the fact that there was an unprecedented surge in demand for medical oxygen during the second wave of COVID-19. These statements are contradictory and acknowledge only one part of a picture. Anyone who followed the news during the second wave can logically deduce discrepancies.
The government supply of oxygen was unable to fulfil demand; hence people turned towards private centres and later black marketing. Law of demand states that an unprecedented increase in demand for medical oxygen will increase its prices. India has economic inequality, and people who were able to afford highly-priced oxygen cylinders saved their lives and those who couldn’t afford died due to lack of oxygen! It’s as plain as the nose on our faces.
When the government tries to shed responsibility off its shoulders by issuing statements like these, it is like rubbing salt on the wounds of its citizens.The government acknowledges that they had to step in to ensure equitable distribution of medical oxygen to the states, created a transparent framework for allocation of medical oxygen, consulted with stakeholders like suppliers of liquid oxygen, manufacturers and ministries.
But they do not acknowledge deaths, that it was their responsibility to provide primary healthcare and they failed due to which innocent citizens lost their lives. People who lost their entire families to COVID-19 often think, why are they paying taxes? Minister of state Bharathi Pravin Pawar, in a written reply, said that during the second wave, 2,35,986 deaths were reported as compared to 16,738 deaths in the first wave.
What a lie!
If official statistics are checked, this number is a cardinal truth, but there are instances of underreporting of Covid-19 cases and related deaths. Hence the statement is a blatant lie. A problem cannot be solved unless it is acknowledged. Underreporting of COVID-19 instances in rural areas add fuel to the fire. Next time a policy is made, adequate funds won’t be disbursed to these areas because, according to official statistics, there is no need. Who suffers at the end? People do.
Cases were underreported in areas like Ojhaulivillage of Uttar Pradesh, Beed, Satara, Buldhana, Ahmednagar districts of Maharashtra, and few areas Gujarat. The absence of accurate data leads to inadequate responses to the problem. The government may disburse funds, allocate funds for improving rural medical infrastructure, hospital beds, oxygen availability, testing kits et cetera. But unless the government knows how dire a situation is, it cannot allocate the optimum amount for infrastructure. Lying to people’s faces is not accepted in a democracy like India.
The Centre should remember that they are in a position of power because people want them to be. If people are not happy with the policies and prospects of the ruling party, they will be substituted.
If the state thinks people are incompetent and obtuse to detect white lies, it is overconfidence of the centre. History is our witness that tyranny and absolutism led to revolution and rebellion. The common man is struggling in the NDA regime due to a number of factors, and such lies feed anger and disgust.
The government is trying to derail people from criticising it because there are many incidents where people lost lives due to lack of oxygen. Individuals, organisations and even hospitals have issued SOS calls across social media demanding medical oxygen and its replenishment on an emergency basis. A Twitter thread created by Aditi Priya, a research associate with LEAD at Krea University, counted 223 deaths as of 13 April due to lack of oxygen. It counted another 70 deaths were relatives of the deceased alleged lack of oxygen.
Apart from this, 24 patients lost their lives at Karnataka hospital due to a lack of oxygen. The incident happened at Chamaranjannagar; district officials denied such claims. Twelve people lost their lives in Delhi’s Batra Hospital on 1st May. A video later went viral where the doctor of the same hospital could not find a hospital bed for himself. Around 83 people died due to oxygen-related issues from 11 to 15 May.
On June 28, a report was submitted to the High Court that 23 people died due to lack of oxygen at Ruia Hospital in Tirupati. Haryana government ordered an investigation into 19 deaths that happened due to oxygen shortage between April to May. These are just a few examples because the government or activists requested a probe. Government should be sensitive enough not to shed responsibility off their shoulders and at least try to compensate for the death of individuals.
The irresponsibility and lack of empathy towards their subjects are features of foreign oppressors. But the ruling party has Indian citizens, still chooses to act coldly. Some examples can be cited to warn the government that it cannot lie to its people. Due to increased Covid cases and the need for hospitalisation, makeshift hospitals like Maa Ahilya Covid care of Indore and the like were made.
Schools were turned into hospitals, and still, the government says that there are no specific deaths related to oxygen. People had to wait for hours to cremate their loved ones because too many deaths led to the scarcity of pyres. Multiple bodies were cremated on a single pyre due to lack of wood and long wait. The dead has to be cremated with respect.
The Centre has to understand that closing eyes during a fire does not mean that the fire is extinguished. In times like these, the state and its people must come together, form a common platform to address issues. Instead of helping, the state is trying to avoid blame by resorting to lies. It is not a geographical boundary of a state that is important, but it is the people of the nation that are more important. People of the nation are suffering.
The government has before denied claims of vaccine shortage, but every single centre reported a lack of vaccines and turned back people interested in vaccination. Now the Centre believes that if they say no one died due to lack of oxygen, people would believe them.
As caretakers of the people, the Centre should focus on building health infrastructure to avoid deaths in the third wave of Covid, improve transportation and logistics, invest in creating a robust telecommunication infrastructure, spend money on education and research etc.
The government’s focus should be directed towards creating public goods and services so that innocent lives are not lost due to a lack of medical equipment. The state must provide its people with education, water and healthcare.
But in India, all of these essential goods are to be procured by the public according to their capacity. The least government could do is not lie.