Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday – for a second time in two days – to highlight a potential shortfall in oxygen supply to the state, which is among those worst-affected by the second wave of coronavirus infections.
Ms Banerjee, sworn in as Chief Minister for a third time on Wednesday, flagged the increasing consumption of oxygen in the state and urged the centre to allocate more; she said the demand had already gone up to 470 metric tonnes per day, and was expected to rise to 550 MT.
“… consumption of medical oxygen is increasing rapidly due to increase in Covid positive cases. It has gone up to 470 MT per day in the last 24 hours and expected to increase to 550 MT in the next seven to eight days,” she wrote.
Ms Banerjee said the Bengal Chief Secretary had already raised this issue with senior central government officials, including the Union Health Secretary.
“However, instead of allocating the same… Government of India has increased allocation to other states, from the total production in West Bengal during the last 10 days, from 230 MT to 306 MT… keeping the allocation for West Bengal constant at 308 MT,” the Chief Minister said.
Bengal produces around 560 MT of medical oxygen, of which it is currently using only 470 MT.
However, as cases continue to pile up this expected to rise sharply and Ms Banerjee said “anything less than 550 MT per day will adversely affect the situation… and may lead to loss of lives”.
The oxygen crisis has been triggered by a devastating increase in Covid cases; this morning over four lakh were reported from across the country, of which more than 18,000 were from Bengal.
Covid cases have been on the rise in the state after polling for the eight-phase election that concluded last week. Experts say the increase in cases may be the result of poll campaigning.
Thousands of people violated social distancing and face mask rules to attend rallies and roadshows held by Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Banerjee, among other leaders.
Bengal currently has more than 1.2 lakh active Covid cases. The state has ordered extensive restrictions, including asking all visitors to show a Covid-negative report.
Bengal isn’t the only state to red-flag oxygen supply issues. Earlier today the Supreme Court ruled against the centre on a Karnataka High Court order asking it to increase supply of medical oxygen.
The crisis is particularly acute in Delhi, where the High Court, the Arvind Kejriwal government and the centre have been locked in argument for nearly two weeks. The Supreme Court today finally ordered the centre to supply the 700 MT of oxygen per day that Delhi had been asking for.
As more and more states start to worry about oxygen, the centre has insisted that supply of medical oxygen is not the issue. It says transporting it to high-demand areas.
Part of the reason for the increased oxygen demand – as against the first wave – is that more patients are suffering from breathlessness in the second wave, the centre has said.