Indian state ‘cracks down’ on hospitals flagging oxygen shortage

Uttar Pradesh’s BJP government accused of ordering crackdown on individuals and hospitals reporting shortages, according to Indian media reports.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath arrives to inspect the special COVID ward in a hospital in Prayagraj [File: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP]

The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state has ordered a crackdown on individuals and hospitals reporting a shortage of medical oxygen or beds, according to Indian media reports.

Over the weekend, the northern state’s saffron-clad Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu monk known for his hate speech, threatened to invoke the stringent National Security Act (NSA) and the Gangster Act against anyone trying to spread fear and panic during the pandemic, local reports said.

He also said the property of “anti-social elements” spreading “rumours and propaganda on social media” should be seized – a measure earlier used by the state against criminals, but now becoming a regular threat under Adityanath’s government.

During the nationwide protests against a controversial citizenship law passed by the BJP-led federal government in 2019, the Uttar Pradesh government had ordered the seizure of properties of many protesters, most of them Muslims.

A security guard puts up a notice indicating there are no beds available at a private hospital in Prayagraj on April 22, 2021 [File: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP]

“There is no shortage of beds, oxygen and life-saving drugs in the state,” Adityanath said during a virtual news conference on Monday, claiming his government has “established 32 oxygen plants” in the state.

“At present, we have 72 oxygen tankers transporting oxygen to hospitals across all districts in the state,” he said, according to India’s ANI news agency.

But in various cities of Uttar Pradesh, which has been reporting an average of 30,000 COVID-19 infections a day, hospitals and crematoriums are inundated with patients and bodies, with officials saying they are facing a shortage of liquid oxygen.

A doctor in a PPE suit looks after a COVID patient at a private hospital in Greater Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi [File: Xavier Galiana/AFP]

The state capital, Lucknow, has been one of the worst-hit cities, forcing the authorities to enforce a weekend lockdown.

On Monday, Adityanath, who himself is currently down with COVID-19, was pilloried for his government’s handling of the crisis by a regional court.

“It is a shame that while the government knew of the magnitude of the second wave it never planned things in advance,” the Allahabad High Court said.

The opposition Congress party’s leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Tuesday wrote to Adityanath, warning of a “health emergency” in the state and offering her suggestions on managing the crisis, including ramping up testing and vaccination.

India’s federal government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also been accused of targeting people for flagging a shortage of oxygen and hospital beds.

On Saturday, the Indian government asked social media platform Twitter to delete dozens of tweets, including some by local legislators, that were critical of India’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, even as COVID-19 cases continued to hit a world record.

“Suppression of information and criticism of government is not only dangerous for India but it is putting people around the world at risk,” said Mirza Saaib Beg, a lawyer whose tweets were among those withheld.

India, with a population of about 1.3 billion, has a tally of 17.64 million infections, but experts believe it runs much higher. Vaccine demand has outpaced supply even as India plans to open its vaccination drive for all adults starting May 1.

On Tuesday, federal health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan tweeted that the government has “expedited” oxygen supplies to states, including Uttar Pradesh.

Meanwhile, in a middle-class neighbourhood in central Lucknow, there is anger and sadness in the Srivastava household after the cremation of the head of the family.

“I blame the officers sitting in air-conditioned chambers for my father’s death,” said 39-year-old Ashish, who himself is now COVID-19 positive.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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