Oxygen imbalance

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The sharp rise in the number of critical Covid cases in recent weeks has led to an exponential increase in the demand for medical oxygen in several states, particularly Delhi and Maharashtra. It’s the Centre’s job to ensure that the allocation for every state matches its respective requirement. It’s simple arithmetic, but not so for the authorities. Irregularities in the state-wise distribution of the life-saving gas smack of gross mismanagement.

The Delhi High Court has asked the Centre to explain why Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra were given more oxygen than what they asked for, while Delhi was not even getting the quantity it had sought. The numbers speak for themselves: the national capital’s requirement is 700 metric tonnes (MT) per day, but it has been allocated 480-490 MT; Maharashtra demanded 1,500 MT and was allocated 1,661 MT; Madhya Pradesh sought 445 MT and was granted 543 MT. The Union government needs to urgently dispel the Orwellian notion that all states are equal but some are more equal than others.

Anomalies in oxygen supply have also come under the judicial scanner. For a patient gasping for breath, every moment is crucial. Even a short delay can prove to be fatal — and the worst has been happening in many cases. The High Court has questioned the Centre’s rationale for letting Delhi receive oxygen from far-off plants in West Bengal and Odisha. The logistic problems must be addressed at the earliest so that minimum time is consumed in transportation.

The Centre has also invited the court’s ire for tardy progress with regard to the installation of four oxygen generation plants in the Capital, even as the state government too can’t escape blame for failing to take pre-emptive action. The Centre claims that there is no shortage of medical oxygen in the country, with the production enhanced from about 6,000 MT per day in August 2020 to 9,000 MT till date. Now, the twin tasks of rationalising the allocation and streamlining the supply must be prioritised. Regular monitoring is the key to removing state-specific bottlenecks. Timely administration of oxygen can save precious lives and bring down the Covid mortality rate.

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