Deaths due to oxygen shortage are no less than genocide, observed Allahabad high court on May 4. “We are at pain in observing that death of Covid patients just for non-supply of oxygen to the hospitals is a criminal act and not less than a genocide by those who have been entrusted the task to ensure continuous procurement and supply chain of the liquid medical oxygen,” said the bench of Justices Siddhartha Varma and Ajit Kumar while hearing a suo moto PIL on media reports that Covid patients had died in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, and in Meerut due to lack of oxygen. This observation came from the high court of the state, where the chief minister has vehemently denied any shortage of oxygen.
However, unlike his UP counterpart Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh in his letters to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah on May 4 expressed deep concern over the imminent loss of lives due to oxygen shortage across the state. He said with the mounting caseload, he was unable to increase Level 2 and Level 3 beds due to constraints of oxygen availability. The state was facing the prospect of shortage of oxygen beds, he said, pointing out that the Government of India had expressed its inability to even allow Punjab’s local industry to undertake commercial import of LMO from Pakistan through the Wagah-Attari border, which is geographically proximate.
Despite the assurance that “adequate supply would be ensured to us from alternate sources, I regret to point out that this has not happened,” said Amarinder Singh.
On the same day, Punjab also told Punjab and Haryana high court that state had been allotted quota from a plant in Rourkelsa, Odisha, and it was taking a number of days to transport oxygen by road to Punjab. The state argued for allotting oxygen from a nearby plant. During the same hearing, high court, considering severe shortage of oxygen in Haryana, directed the central government to take necessary steps at the earliest to ensure there is no further loss of life due to paucity of oxygen in the state.
Earlier on April 26, Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar had alleged that the Union government was not cooperating in getting oxygen imported for Punjab from Pakistan to combat the second Covid wave. He said, while Pakistan’s industry had enough oxygen and CM Amarinder Singh had mooted the plan to import it from there, but the Centre was coming in the way. On the same day, Amritsar MP Gurjit Singh Aujla wrote a letter to PM Modi. Underlining shortage of oxygen in Amritsar, he pointed out that the border city was getting oxygen from Panipat, around 350 km away, whereas Lahore was just 50 km away. He implored the PM to accept the offer of help from neighbouring country with open arms during current emergency.
It is now 10 days after Jakhar made public that the Punjab CM had proposed to import oxygen from Pakistan but the Centre refused permission. Since then there have been reports of people dying due to shortage of oxygen and there have been thousands of SOS messages on social media desperately looking for oxygen beds or cylinders and hundreds of visuals and videos showing people literally running for oxygen and patients gasping.
Oxygen tankers are being transported long distances within India and images and videos of oxygen tankers being loaded in planes, trains are being relayed. Special videos are being shot and promoted. Railway minister Piyush Goyal tweeted a professionally shot video with background music of an ‘oxygen express ’.
But all states, especially Delhi, are falling short of oxygen supply even as Supreme Court and high court have been pulling up the central government and making very strong observations.
Other countries are rushing medical aid to India. Notwithstanding the border tensions with China and India not yet accepting Beijing’s offer of aid and assistance, customs officials are expeditiously clearing Covid medical equipment imports from China. Indian companies have already placed commercial orders with China for importing oxygen generators and other life-saving equipment.
Pakistan has also offered help. India has not yet responded. If India does not want free help from Pakistan just like China, it can at least open up imports from the neighbouring country. If these are opened via land route not only can oxygen reach quickly across Punjab but Haryana, Delhi and UP and this can help to improve supplies in other states also.
Making oxygen available without any delay is the only key to save lives. Opening imports from Pakistan via land route can save thousands of lives.
If some people think that oxygen or other medical equipment from Pakistan will hurt their nationalism they can refuse to be put on ‘Pakistani oxygen.’ However, let others not die due to such ultra-nationalism. It’s important is to save lives. If other states don’t want oxygen from Pakistan, let Punjab have it and save its people.
Already India and Pakistan have announced strict observance of ceasefire along the LoC, in a joint statement issued on February 25, and this announcement was seen as a thaw in bilateral relations. If India opens up imports of oxygen or other medical supplies, this can further improve ties between the two neighbours.
In 2001 when earthquake struck Bhuj in Gujarat, which had a BJP government then, AB Vajpayee government accepted offer of help from Pakistan and the latter sent three cargo planes full of tents and blankets. Four years later when earthquake hit Kashmir in 2005 and there was large scale devastation, Indian sent several tonnes of relief material to Pakistan including blankets, food and medicines. A train also went to Pakistan through Attari railways station. India had also promised 25 million dollars in aid. Even the LoC was opened up to facilitate reconstruction by Kashmiris from either side.
In 2015 when quake hit Afghanistan and Pakistan, Prime Minister Modi offered help to both the countries. He called up Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif and offered all possible assistance and later tweeted about it. Then also relations were frosty but Indian PM did what he should have done.
God forbid, if tomorrow Pakistan faces similar situation to what India is facing now, will India not offer help?
Remember Allahabad high court said “non-supply of oxygen to the hospitals is a criminal act and not less than a genocide”. Now import oxygen and stop the genocide.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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