India reported 3,46,786 new Covid cases and 2,624 deaths on Friday as the second wave of pandemic unleashed since last month is sweeping through the length and breadth of this country. Eleven states and almost all the metros are badly hit by the pandemic, and the death toll is continuously rising. To date, since the onset of the pandemic, 1,89,544 Covid related deaths have been reported in India. The situation is grim as hospitals are still battling the oxygen crisis.
In this gloomy scenario, there are rays of hope across the horizon. Work is going on at a frenetic pace, on a war footing. The Indian Railways, which used to transport battle tanks and armoured personnel carriers to the war fronts, is today running Oxygen Express, carrying liquid oxygen tankers from one part of the country to another. Indian Air Force transport planes, which used to airlift troops and equipment to the borders, are today carrying oxygen tankers across India. Through better management and coordinated efforts, we can provide sufficient oxygen to each and every hospital, in time.
The Centre, the state governments, all wings of our armed forces, all central paramilitary forces, the railways, top corporates from the public and private sectors have joined hands to carry out this Herculean effort to boost oxygen supply to the metros. Green corridors are being created by local police so that oxygen tankers can reach hospitals in time. The positive results are now showing. The situation will not improve by creating an atmosphere of fear and panic. It can only improve and is improving, due to sheer courage and coordinated efforts.
In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on India TV on Friday night, we showed Indian Railways’ Oxygen Express that is carrying medical oxygen from Vishakhapatnam on the southeastern coast to Nagpur, Nashik and its final destination Mumbai. Another Oxygen Express that left UP for Bokaro (Jharkhand), has now started its return journey. It will reach Lucknow on Saturday, carrying medical oxygen. The railways are providing rakes to carry oxygen as per requirements placed by state governments. UP government wanted oxygen from the Reliance plant in Jamnagar, while the Andhra Pradesh government has sought oxygen from neighbouring Odisha. Delhi government has sought medical oxygen from Rourkela, Odisha through Indian Railway.
Indian Air Force transport aircraft are ferrying empty oxygen tankers to oxygen production centres so that they can be sent to metros via rail or road. A C-17 Globemaster aircraft on Friday carried two empty oxygen tankers from Indore to Jamnagar. The tankers will return to Indore by road carrying medical oxygen from the Reliance plant. This is being done to cut transportation time by half.
IAF transport aircraft cannot carry medical oxygen in the air, as it is highly combustible and forbidden. From Hyderabad, IAF jumbo aircraft carried empty tankers to Odisha for oxygen refuelling. From the Hindon airbase in Ghaziabad, a Globemaster aircraft carried three empty tankers on Thursday night to West Bengal for oxygen refuelling. These tankers will supply oxygen to Delhi hospitals. Delhi Police has made special ‘green corridor’ arrangements for all tankers supplying medical oxygen to hospitals.
At his virtual conference with 11 chief ministers on Friday, Prime Minister Modi took note of the medical oxygen requirements of each state. He directed all state chief ministers to ensure that not a single oxygen tanker must be prevented from reaching their destinations. Modi said he had spoken to pharmaceutical manufacturers to ramp up the production and import of life-saving drugs and ensure they are made available to hospitals and patients.
The PM asked states to set up high-level coordination committees which can ensure that medical oxygen sent from the Centre reach the designated hospitals in time. He asked the chief ministers to take action against hoarders, profiteers and black marketers and at the same time, the state governments must discourage panic buying of medicines.
Meanwhile, the Defence Ministry has decided to airlift 23 mobile oxygen generating plants from Germany to help in the national effort. These plants can generate 40-litre oxygen in a minute, which comes to roughly 2400 litre oxygen in an hour.
On Friday, the PM held a conference with top oxygen manufacturers. These included Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, Sajjan Jindal of JSW, Naveen Jindal of JSPL, top officials of Tata Steel, National Oxygen Ltd, SAIL chief Soma Mondal, and other corporate leaders. The PM told them to join hands in augmenting the numbers of oxygen cylinders, tankers and supply of medical oxygen at the earliest.
Looking at the massive wartime like efforts launched by Prime Minister Modi to beat the oxygen shortage, I am confident that one will soon find the light at the end of this dark tunnel, that has engulfed our nation. This did not happen suddenly. There were hours and days of meticulous planning and coordination behind these efforts. When all such agencies join hands and try to deliver results, it kindles hope and trust in the minds of common people towards the present system. The Prime Minister told the 11 chief ministers in so many words on Friday. He said, if all of us, instead of pulling one another’s legs, join hands and work coordinatedly, there will be no lack of resources, and we will definitely win this battle.
I have words of praise for India Inc too. Naveen Jindal promised to supply free medical oxygen, while Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani have already joined coordinated efforts in procurement and logistics for supplying oxygen. The Tata group has also joined this Herculean effort. This should serve as a lesson to those, who cry hoarse daily against ‘Ambani, Adani’, but when a pandemic of such a gigantic nature takes place, these industrialists come forward to help the common people. These industrial groups have come forward to augment the supply of vital medicines and have also joined hands to ramp up the nationwide Covid vaccination campaign that is due to be launched from May 1 for all Indians above the age of 18 years. It’s time such naysayers should now change their mindset and opinions about industrial corporates.
Watching common people weeping over the death of their beloved ones, I cannot help but feel sad over this tragedy that could have been avoided. Nobody, neither the Centre nor the state governments, had anticipated that the pandemic will sweep through vast swathes of our population, making them breathless, crying for oxygen and vital medicines.
India is a vast country with the second largest population in the world, and the number of those affected by the pandemic is more than the entire population of many countries. All-out efforts are being made to supply oxygen and vital medicines to hospitals and patients on a war footing, and this Herculean effort will surely yield positive results, soon.
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