The disruption of oxygen supply is causing deaths almost on a daily basis in the country. Earlier this week, 24 patients, 23 of them Covid-infected, died in Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar due to alleged shortage of the life-saving gas in the district hospital. On Saturday, 12 Covid-19 patients, including a senior doctor, succumbed at a private hospital in New Delhi after it reportedly ran out of medical oxygen for more than an hour. Though the Central government claims that there is no shortage of oxygen, the lapses are evident on all counts, be it production, allocation, transportation or supply.
Time is of utmost importance when a patient’s life is on the line. It’s a no-brainer that oxygen must reach the recipient in the shortest duration possible. It defies logic that Punjab has to keep waiting for 4-5 days for a tanker to bring 90 MT (metric tonnes) of the gas from a plant in Jharkhand’s Bokaro. After the Chamarajanagar tragedy, the Karnataka government has decided to focus on three broad goals to streamline the supply of oxygen allocated by the Centre: reduce the time taken to refill tankers; provide a green corridor for faster commuting of tankers; and avoid delay at toll plazas. Such a template needs to be adopted across the board at the earliest in view of the enhanced inter-state movement of tankers.
The Supreme Court has rightly directed the Centre to create a buffer stock of oxygen for emergency purposes in collaboration with the states and decentralise the location of the stocks so that it is promptly available if the normal supply chain is disrupted. That the Covid Care Centre at Delhi’s Commonwealth Games Village will soon have its own oxygen plant that will provide uninterrupted supply to 15-20 beds from its pipeline is too little too late. Such a self-sufficient arrangement will cut down potentially fatal delays. Coordination between the Centre and the states, and also among the states, is vital. There should be no disparity between a state’s requirement and the actual allocation as well as supply. The oxygen crisis can be overcome by removing bottlenecks at all stages.