An Interim Report on the audit of medical oxygen demand and consumption in Delhi prepared by a Supreme Court appointed committee has confirmed what was being suspected, that the Delhi govt was grossly overestimating its oxygen demand during the months of March and April. The sub-group constituted as per the apex court to study the oxygen situation in Delhi has said that the state was demanding much more oxygen than required, and had hampered the oxygen supply chain in the entire region.
After the report came out, BJP leaders and social media users came down heavily on the Arvind Kejriwal government for playing ‘Oxygen Politics’ during such a pandemic. However, some left-liberals and journalists could not accept the audit committee report and questioned if there was no demand for oxygen in Delhi, why hospitals were sending SOS for oxygen and why they had stopped admitting patients due to lack of oxygen. People asked, why so many people died due to lack of oxygen, and why people were standing in long queues to refill oxygen cylinders.
These questions are legitimate, and at the first glance, it creates the impression that the audit report might be flawed. But actually, that is not the case, and the report actually does not say that there never any oxygen crisis in Delhi.
The SOS messages from hospitals, the urgent hearing at courts, the images of queues of oxygen cylinders, the black marketing of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, all of them are real, the people in Delhi suffered all of them. But it does not make the Interim Report false. Both are correct, here is how.
The oxygen demand vs consumption calculations mentioned in the report are based on extensive studies and actual data of oxygen supply, and they do prove that the Oxygen requirement in Delhi was not to the extent that Delhi govt was demanding. But despite this, the people of Delhi suffered, and there is only one reason for the same, mismanagement by the AAP government in Delhi.
Delhi didn’t arrange transport facilities for oxygen
When the second wave of Covid-19 hit the country, the union govt took several steps to increase oxygen availability. Industrial oxygen producers were asked to produce medical oxygen, and later use of industrial oxygen was banned. The Railways ran Oxygen Express trains, tankers were imported to transport oxygen. The state governments also took steps their level to ensure smooth supply of oxygen, and the corporate sector also extended their help by supplying medical oxygen from their plants.
Amid all this, Arvind Kejriwal government was sitting idle doing nothing. Being a city state, Delhi does not have industries that produce oxygen, several other states also do not have such plants. Hence, the central govt had allocated oxygen to various states based on their projected demand from the oxygen producing states and plants. The individual states then started collecting the oxygen from their allocated plants.
But the Delhi govt didn’t do that, they were expending the central govt to transport the Liquid Medical Oxygen from the nearby states to Delhi. It is on record that the Delhi government had not arranged a single tanker to move the precious gas. On 24th April, the Delhi High Court had slammed the Delhi govt for not arranging cryogenic tankers. This means, after a month the second wave had started, the Arvind Kejriwal government had not arranged a single tanker to collect the oxygen allocated by the centre. The hospitals in Delhi were being supplied by the suppliers like Inox using their own tankers, but additional tankers were needed to collect oxygen allocated from other plants in nearby states, which was the responsibility of the state govt.
Delhi govt had given the excuse that as they are not an industrial state, they don’t have tankers. But that is an illogical excuse, as even in the industrial states, the state governments don’t have tankers. They hire tankers from private transport and logistical companies. Moreover, Delhi may not have large industries, but it is a trade hub. Which means, hundreds of transport firms operate from this region. With proactive planning, the state govt could have hired tankers on time from such private companies in Delhi and nearby states.
Similarly, the Indian Railways had started the Oxygen Express initiative to transport oxygen tankers across the country on 19th April, and immediately after that, states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh etc had sent requests for the trains. But not Delhi, for more than a week. When the central govt had taken a novel initiative to transport oxygen at a faster speed, Arvind Kejriwal didn’t opt for that, so that he can play politics by telecasting a confidential meeting with the Prime Minister.
Delhi didn’t arrange storage facilities for oxygen
When there is increased supply of oxygen to cater to increased demand, there is also a need to increased storage facility to store the oxygen. But during the oxygen crisis, another serous shortfall in Delhi hospitals was revealed, criminal shortage of storage tanks. Almost all hospitals didn’t have cryogenic tank facilities so store the oxygen supplied to them. They either refilled individual cylinders, or stored the gas in small tanks. This meant, they required replenishment daily, sometimes more than once in a day, which may not be possible during a crisis situation.
The PESO report included in the oxygen audit interim report confirms this lack of storage facilities in Delhi. It describes how Delhi govt had returned oxygen tankers back to the suppliers, and had asked them to store the oxygen in their own plants, as there was no place to store them in Delhi. PESO had found that if the demanded 700 MT is supplied daily, there won’t be enough storage capacity to store it in the city.
Due to such lack of facility, Delhi was actually lifting less oxygen than what was available to it, and the rest was lying with the suppliers. When the PESO had written to oxygen suppliers why there was shortfall in oxygen supply to Delhi, they had given reasons like returning of oxygen by Delhi govt, not lifting allocated oxygen from their plants by Delhi govt, lack of storage tanks in Delhi etc.
As a reason, a large quantity of oxygen allocated to Delhi was actually sitting idle with the oxygen suppliers, therefore, it can be said that was excess oxygen.
Mismanagement in allocation to hospitals
In normal times, hospitals deal with oxygen suppliers directly for their requirement. But when oxygen crisis emerged during the second wave of Covid-19, Delhi govt had allocated specific hospitals to the supplies. It was supposed to smoothen the distribution of oxygen, but the allocation was done so badly that it ended up contributing to the oxygen crisis in Delhi. The Delhi govt prepared the allocations without considering the capacity of the suppliers, the requirement of the hospitals, and other logistical issues.
The state govt had issued multiple lists with overlapping names, prompting the oxygen suppliers to approach the High Court to know to which hospitals they should supply. While some hospitals were not even in the lists, depriving them of oxygen as suppliers were to distribute oxygen only to those hospitals which had been allocated to them.
On the other hand, multiple suppliers were allocated to same hospitals, forcing the tankers of the suppliers to wait for hours as other suppliers were unloading oxygen. The Interim Report contains a letter from oxygen supplier Goyal group to hospitals saying how they were facing difficulties in delivering oxygen. They informed that when their tankers arrived at hospitals, the tankers had to wait for hours as Reliance tankers were unloading oxygen. In one such incident, one Goyal tanker loaded with oxygen had to wait for 20 hours. This was a risky situation for the tanker driver to wait for such long time at a Covid hospital, and it had disrupted the oxygen supply chain as the tankers were held up for hours.
This shows that there was no planning involved in supplying oxygen to the hospitals, and while some hospitals were getting supplies from multiple suppliers, some were not getting it at all.
Black marketing became rampant as oxygen crisis hit the state, and the Delhi government also failed to check it. It took the High Court to point out that there were discrepancies in capacity and supply of oxygen of the suppliers, clearly indicating the suppliers were black marketing the gas.
The High Court had slammed the AAP govt for railing to curb black marketing of both liquid oxygen and oxygen cylinders. The court had observed that no account was being kept on the supply of oxygen by the dealers, which was creating an artificial shortage. The court had said that while a substantial quantity of oxygen was being supplied to cylinder refillers, there was no mechanism to monitor the supply from these refillers to the hospitals.
While the HC had slammed the Delhi govt for black marketing of oxygen, social media was filled with accounts of people who had had encountered black marketers. Social media users had revealed how the cylinder suppliers had put ‘not available’ sign on their shops, to sell the cylinders at a high price. As many Covid-19 patients were taking treatment at home due to non-availability of hospital beds, their families had to purchase oxygen from such blacker marketers at very high prices.
No oxygen infrastructure in Delhi hospitals
While the AAP government does not fail to give full page ads boasting about their ‘achievements’, the oxygen crisis revealed another criminal shortfall in the city, almost none of the hospitals in Delhi has captive oxygen plants. The crisis hit the Delhi hospitals because all of them are dependent on suppliers for oxygen.
As the Covid-19 pandemic had hit the nation, the union govt had allocated funds to states to build PSA Medical Oxygen Plants at hospitals, which can produce in-house oxygen. Delhi was allocated 8 oxygen plants under the scheme, however, only had been set by April.
Moreover, there was no initiative from the state govt to install oxygen plants in its own hospitals. And they also didn’t urge the private hospitals to install their own plants for a year. The hospitals in Delhi are among the richest in the country, they have the resources to install oxygen plants. But neither of them bothered to install such plants.
In contrast, much poorer state Assam had built 10 oxygen plants in a year using both central and own funds, foreseeing the increased oxygen demand. Then health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had also taken personal initiative to revive oxygen plants that were lying operational at various industrial units. Had the Delhi govt used such planning, they could have built oxygen plants in the city hospitals, making them less dependent on suppliers.
Delhi govt mismanaged oxygen supply, then exaggerated its demand
Therefore, the cause of the oxygen crisis was not that Delhi was getting less oxygen, the cause was the govt was lifting less oxygen, they were storing less oxygen, and there was gross mismanagement in every aspect of the oxygen supply chain. The fact that the city was hit by an oxygen supply does not mean that the Interim Report is incorrect and Delhi was not demanding excess oxygen.
Multiple studies and reports had shown that Delhi’s oxygen requirement was not that high as claimed by the AAP government, and the same has been confirmed by the oxygen audit, which was vehemently opposed by the Delhi government. It is also notable that immediately after the Supreme Court had ordered the oxygen audit, the oxygen crisis in Delhi had disappeared, with the state govt asking the centre to reduce its allocation. This indicates that the oxygen crisis was artificial.