NEW DELHI: The Opposition on Tuesday criticised the ham-handed handling of the Covid pandemic by the government while debating the matter in Rajya Sabha and said people died on the streets due to lack of oxygen, which is a matter of shame in the 21st century.
However, even as the battering continued, the Centre chose to keep its head buried in the sand and take refuge in bureaucratic communications from states which was curiously silent on such fatalities.
No deaths due to lack of oxygen were specifically reported by states and UTs during the second COVID-19 wave, the government informed the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
But it was constrained to admit that there was an unprecedented surge in demand for medical oxygen during the second wave and it peaked at nearly 9000 MT compared to 3095 MT in the first wave, following which the Centre had to step in to facilitate equitable distribution among the states, it said.
Shantanu Sen of the AITC pointed out the situation was entirely Centre’s undoing. The Centre took unilateral decisions and hands of the state government were tied, he alleged. "Lancet, the oldest medical journal, WHO, Supreme Court and several high courts and even countries like Brazil, Canada and the UK have criticised our preparedness and policy. What can be more shameful for us," he claimed.
Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar acknowledged that health is a state subject and states and UTs regularly report the number of cases and deaths to the Centre. However, true to the script of the national narrative that the BJP government has chosen to weave, she claimed that this time no deaths due to lack of oxygen were specifically reported.
Almost sounding self-congratulatory, the Government of India said it had instead supported the states and undertaken a series of actions, including provisioning medical oxygen, and other consumables.
Amar Patnaik of the BJD seemed to support the government when he said the world was facing a pandemic after 100 years and no nation was prepared for this. "We cannot politicise this handling of the pandemic because no one is wiser. The relationship between the Centre and states and the cooperation is of paramount importance," he said, adding that neither the Centre, nor the state governments can handle it alone.
Warming up to the debate, BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta said: "In handling the pandemic the role of the state has become paramount. Whatever people have thought, as to how much space the state should occupy in the economy and society, in these exceptional circumstances, they have become the driving force."
But trust for that it is important there is no trust deficit. This requires transparency; figures should not be fudged and the statistical reportage must be authentic, he said.