Politics of Oxygen shortage: When the truth is the enemy

WebdeskJul 22, 2021, 09:50 AM IST

Politics of Oxygen shortage: When the truth is the enemy

                                                                                                                                                                 Nirendra Dev


New Delhi: During the last two days at the TV debate, leaders from several other parties and states have declined to answer whether there was any death in their backyards because of a shortage of life-saving gas.


There is no denying that the Covid crisis is being used as a window of opportunity by opposition parties to blast Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but they would do nothing on a soul searching.


This is the story of the 'politics of oxygen shortage'.


No sooner the newly appointed Minister of State for Health, Bharati Pawar, made the statement in Rajya Sabha that there has been no death during the second wave in April-May "due to lack of oxygen", the statement has triggered a big row off.


Congress MP Rahul Gandhi said it was the shortage of oxygen and the 'sensitivity' that has been found wanting.


Congress lawmaker K. C. Venugopal said that his party would move a privilege motion against Minister Bharati Pawar for her statement.


Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain and his counterparts in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh also spoke.

While Jain said there was 'no column' to attribute any death to oxygen shortage, Chhattisgarh Health Minister and a senior Congressman T S Singhdeo claimed there was no death in his state because of oxygen shortage.


The statement counters Rahul Gandhi's 'holier than thou' politics.


Union Minister Giriraj Singh took on Rahul Gandhi in Italian and wrote - (translation) - "I would say about this prince: He lacked the brain then, he misses it now and he will miss it forever. These lists are compiled by the states.


You can tell the states governed by your party to submit modified lists. Until then, stop lying."


"I am speechless. What would have happened to the families of those who lost their loved ones to oxygen shortage after hearing this statement?," said Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut.


Are all these states being economical with the truth?


During the last two days at the TV debate, leaders from several other parties and states have declined to answer whether there was any death in their backyards because of a shortage of life-saving gas.


This included a few Trinamool Congress leaders whose leader Mamata Banerjee has drawn out a national ambition urging all to unite against the Prime Minister for the 2024 battle.


There are other issues related to responses given by the government(s) in the Parliament.


Typically, the fault lines lie with Babudom, although the Ministers also endorse the drafts that come from the departments.


The bureaucracy in India is used to prepare the responses, especially in 'written replies' in a typical and their conventional norm. The ministers rarely study or are never advised properly on what could be the reactions and ramifications after the responses are tabled in Parliament.


This has happened in the past as well.


If anybody is being 'insensitive' in giving such 'zero death because of oxygen shortage' responses in Parliament, senior officials must be held accountable.


In the case of the incumbent Minister, one need not sound justifying Ms Pawar; but it is a fact that she is too fresh as a minister to understand or gauge the political ramifications.


Some officials and ministries under any Government have not taken 'furnishing written responses' to Parliament sincerely.


Perhaps there is an exception to this in replies provided by the Ministry of External Affairs and the PMO.


The Babus often betray a callous manner when writing the draft responses, following their heartless bureaucratic language and tone.


Even in this case, the same response could have been drafted differently. A modest sentence expressing sympathy with those families who lost their near and dear ones during the second wave of the pandemic could have been mentioned.


One line could have been added that the centre will issue new guidelines to the states to update the casualty figures and mention clearly whether oxygen shortage was a cause of death.


Then the harsh reactions would not have stuck.


Data would ultimately help improve governance for the future, and these are not only for blame giving and credit-seeking political games.


Under PM Modi's government, even a few years back, Agriculture Minister Radhamohan Singh faced a similar situation when he tabled a written response on farmers' suicides.


Thus, if the government wants to streamline and strengthen the Parliamentary system and prepare the written responses (to questions) in Parliament more responsive, unlike in the past, they have to hit the bull's eye.


The casual bureaucratic approach should become a thing of the past. It was not without good reason that a former Nagaland Chief Secretary, A M Gokhale (now deceased), used to say - New Delhi bureaucrats still think like Aurangzeb's Delhi.



In effect, Babus mostly still draft their files in the language of the colonial masters and hence often, they read so ruthlessly.


But in all that - given the fact what happened in Jaipur Golden Hospital and what a court panel said on oxygen issue, the AAP government's advertisements on 'efficiency' of the Chief Minister (self-styled virtuous) in Covid, crisis management would certainly remain a puzzle.


In June, the Supreme Court oxygen audit panel had blamed the Kejriwal government for 'exaggerating' the oxygen requirement by over four times during the April-May peak period of the second wave of COVID-19.


It was reported that the audit team also informed the Supreme Court that supply of excess oxygen to the national capital in effect could have affected supply to 12 high caseload states.


However, the government response in Rajya Sabha stated that because of the unprecedented surge in demand for medical oxygen during the second wave, the demand in the country peaked at nearly 9000 MT compared to 3095 MT during the first wave.


The Government of India itself had charted a new plan to import 50,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen to cater to the rising demand in May.


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