Ministries fumble as questions raised on fate of oxygen, foreign aid rushed to Covid-hit India

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One ministry knows not what the other is doing. Amid all the foreign aid that has come to aid India’s fight against Covid, questions now arise over the issue of lack of transparency.

India Today TV, like many other national and international news networks, has tried to gather information regarding the distribution of the aid that is arriving in India, but to no avail.

There is no clarity as to which agency, website, official to approach to get data on the distribution of the foreign aid. While some have said that the Ministry of Health will look into the distribution, highly placed officials in the health ministry have pointed to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

An officer explained that all the aid coming to GOI from private and government bodies abroad, are being received by the Indian Red Cross, which then is handed over to the MEA and then for domestic distribution, the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Home Affairs step in.

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There is an ‘Empowered Group’, headed by the Transport Secretary, which is supposed to coordinate distribution. But, when asked there, no ministry has been able to offer clarity on details about the consignments.

Questions raised in the US

On Thursday, at the US state department briefing, pointed questions were asked by a journalist regarding answerability towards US taxpayers’ money.

The reporter asked, “We are sending these planeloads of material to India. But our journalist in Delhi is reporting that even after trying for two days, he’s been unable to find out who is taking away the oxygen concentrators, medicines, or how much is arriving.”

“There’s no website or transparent system where people can apply to get this. So this accountability for the US taxpayers’ money being sent, is there anything being done to check on how it is being distributed, the aid that we are sending?”

State Department Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter said there was no information available regarding any “specific” website.

“As far as a specific website when it comes to tracking, we have nothing to read out or announce at this time. But rest assured that the United States is committed to making sure that our partners in India are taken care of in this crisis,” she said.

Evading the direct question she said that America wanted to “assure” India that “not only are we committed to supporting them in this time of crisis, but help is there right now and additional help is on the way, and obviously that would include an array of supplies, including our oxygen cylinders, regulators, and pulse oximeters, as well as N95 masks to make sure that we’re protecting India’s frontline health care workers.”

Meanwhile, when India Today TV approached the health ministry officials in-charge of disturbing these supplies, they refused to comment on the matter.

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As per sources in the health ministry’s Covid task force, the dispatch of oxygen concentrators that are part of government procurement is likely to begin by May 5.

The Government of India (GOI) has also been awaiting a large supply order under the PM-Cares Fund, which is expected to arrive only through the tendering process, according to sources.

However, details of oxygen concentrators, which states they are going to have not been revealed yet.

To a question on foreign aid and its distribution to states, health ministry spokesperson Lav Agrawal said on Friday during the press briefing, “The health ministry is trying to understand and collect the foreign aid and supplies that are coming from other nations, various countries. Their logistics and movement is currently being worked out.

As of May 3, India has received the following emergency Covid supplies from 14 countries: UK, Mauritius, Singapore, Russia, UAE, Ireland, Romania, USA, Thailand, Germany, Uzbekistan, France, Belgium, Italy –

Details of Supplies:

Oxygen Concentrators – 1,676

Ventilators – 965

Oxygen cylinders (Different sizes) – 1,799

Oxygen Cylinder Regulators – 1,023

Oxygen Cylinder Adaptors – 20

Oxygen Generating Plant(s) – 1

High flow humidify oxygen therapy devices – 20

Bedside Monitors – 150

BiPAPs, Coveralls, Goggles, Masks – 480

Pulse Oximeters – 210

Abbott Rapid Diagnostic Test Kits – 8,84,000

N-95 face masks – 9,28,800

Remdesivir – 1,36,000

Electric Syringe Pumps – 200

AFNOR/BS Flexible tubes – 28

Anti-Bacterial Filters – 500

Machine Filters and Related Patient Circuits – 1,000

While a lot of help has reached India to ease the country’s oxygen-related shortages, there is no clarity of whether distributing it to various states have begun or not.

A US Embassy spokesperson in New Delhi said, “As each US shipment arrives, USAID is transferring ownership of provided materials upon their arrival to the Government of India through the Indian Red Cross organisation. We refer you to the Government of India for information about the deployment and use of these materials subsequent to their transfer.”

Even as the health ministry spokesperson confirmed that distribution is yet to begin, Finance Ministry refuted reports of around 3,000 oxygen concentrators being held up with the customs authorities.

“We have again checked with our field formations and there is no such consignment lying with the customs. However, since a photograph has also been put on the Twitter, if anybody has information as to where it is lying, the same may be informed to us and we will take immediate action,” said the statement.

Later, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) clarified, “With reference to news item, consignment shown in image was found to be the import of 842 packets from Hong Kong by Indigo flight on 30.04.2021 which includes 300 oxygen concentrators & cleared by @Delhicustoms within hours. Any other pending COVID19 supplies may be brought to notice.”

While questions are being raised in donor countries regarding transparency, sources told India Today TV that the high level Inter-Ministerial group which has been formed has established a procedure for immediate clearance of these materials. “The material would be dispatched promptly to the recipient institutions in various parts of the country in coordination with various government agencies,” said sources.

Critical questions that remain:

Who is handling the distribution?

Have critical oxygen concentrators been distributed to states?

Which are the beneficiary states of foreign aid?

Where is the website to find distribution data?

Why no clarity on distribution?

Supplies Received on 27 April 2021

UK(1)

95 Oxygen Concentrators, 100 Ventilators

Supplies Received on 28 April 2021

Mauritius

200 Oxygen Concentrators

Singapore

256 Oxygen Cylinders

Supplies Received on 29 April 2021

UK(2)

120 Oxygen Concentrators

Russia

20 large Oxygen Concentrators, 75 Ventilators, 150 bedside Monitors, 200000 packs of Favipiravir

UAE

157 Ventilators, 480 BiPAPs, Coveralls, Goggles, Masks

Supplies Received on 30 April 2021

UK(3)

280 oxygen concentrators, 40 ventilators

Ireland

700 Oxygen Concentrators, 365 ventilators

Romania

80 Oxygen Concentrators, 75 Oxygen Cylinders, 20 High Flow Humidify oxygen therapy devices

USA (1)

423 oxygen cylinders with regulators (200 Size D, 223 Size H), 210 pulse oximeters, 184,000 Abbott Rapid Diagnostic Test Kits, and 84000 N-95 face masks

USA (2)

17 H-size (large) Oxygen Cylinders and 7,00,000 Abbott Rapid Diagnostic Test Kits

Supplies received on 01 May, 2021

Thailand and

Indian Community Association,

Bangkok

15 Oxygen Concentrators

15 Oxygen Concentrators from the Indian Community

Germany

120 Ventilators

Uzbekistan and

Indian Community

Association in Uzbekistan

100 oxygen concentrators,

2000 pieces of Remdesivir

51 oxygen concentrators from the Indian Community

USA(3)

1028 Type H oxygen cylinders (large) & 600 Type H oxygen cylinders Regulators, 20 Adaptors, 844800 N95 masks

Supplies received on 02 May, 2021

France

8 oxygen generators, 28 ventilators, 200 electric syringe pumps, 28 AFNOR/BS Flexible tubes, 500 anti-bacterial filters, 500 machine filters, 500 related patient circuits

Belgium

9000 vials of Remdesivir

USA(4)

125000 vials of Remdesivir

Supplies received on 03 May, 2021

Italy

1 Oxygen generating plant and 20 ventilators (with an installation team onboard)

UK(4)

60 Ventilators



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