Oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, ventilators and other medical supplies imported from Kuwait | Representational image
Oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, ventilators and other medical supplies imported from Kuwait | Representational image

The Health Ministry on Tuesday stepped in to issue a clarification about how foreign aid was being allocated to the various states and medical centres amid the pandemic. In a press note, the government gave a detailed account of how goods were being dispatched to various parts of the country and assured that relevant customs duties had been waived.

Over the last few weeks, as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to overwhelm India's medical infrastructure, the global community has stepped forward to support the country. Numerous countries including the US and UK, Australia, Russia, UAE, France and Bangladesh have supplied a wide range of medical equipment and emergency drugs. Indeed, at the end of April, India’s External Affairs Ministry had assured that more than 40 countries were standing by India at this time.

But even as flights filled with medical goods continue to arrive at Indian airports, questions remain about how they will be allocated or utilised. A recent Scroll report contends that despite supplies having arrived in Delhi they were yet to make their way to hospitals in the national capital. Even as hospitals in the national capital ran out of oxygen and sent out distress signals with alarming frequency, the status of the tranches which included thousands of oxygen concentrators and cylinders remained unclear.

"There is no record of COVID-19 related medical aid being sent to domestic destinations,” the publication quoted a Delhi Airport spokesperson as saying around noon on Monday. But with many of the consignments coming through the Red Cross Society, officials say that the logistics are left up to the organisation, to be distributed as per the government's directions. The report also quoted anonymous sources to contend that delays in customs clearance or a lack of manpower may have led to the delay.

"For all consignments received via MEA and coming as donations from foreign countries; the consignee is the Indian Red Cross Society. Upon receipt of the papers outlined in the process flow chart, IRCS issues the necessary certificates immediately to HLL for processing customs and regulatory clearances at Airports. IRCS also ensures liaison with MoHFW and HLL so that delays are reduced and quick turnarounds are achieved," the Health Ministry press note on Tuesday explains.

While it remains unclear as to what may have caused the alleged delays, the High Court had recently taken note of oxygen concentrators that were purportedly held up at Customs. "With reference to news item, consignment shown in image was found to be import of 842 packets from Hong Kong by Indigo flight on 30.04.2021 which includes 300 oxygen concentrators and cleared by Delhi Customs within hours. Any other pending COVID19 supplies may be brought to notice," the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs responded.

The CBIC handle has also retweeted several posts by customs offices from around the country which assure that foreign aid had received "customs clearances within fifteen minutes" of arrival.

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