New Delhi: The AAP government in Delhi on Tuesday accused the Centre of a “cover-up” since the outbreak of COVID-19 and not allowing it to “account for reasons behind deaths” during the pandemic.
Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia made these charges in a statement after Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya rejected the allegation of under-reporting of COVID-19 deaths and told Parliament that the Union had not asked any state to show fewer numbers of deaths or less positive cases. The junior health minister also claimed the Union had no data on oxygen shortage deaths as the states had not reported any.
In the statement, Sisodia said there was a shortage of medical oxygen during the peak of the COVID-19 second wave.
“The central government has been running a cover-up since the very start of the pandemic. It is because of their flawed policy and implementation that the country had to endure an oxygen crisis during the toughest phase of the pandemic,” he said.
The Delhi government “wanted to account for the reason behind deaths” during the pandemic, and had constituted a ‘Death Audit Committee’ to work towards that end, he said.
Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain on Wednesday said there have been many deaths due to oxygen shortage in Delhi and other places across the country and it was “completely false” to say no one died for want of the life-saving gas.
“If no deaths occurred due to oxygen shortage, why did hospitals move high court one after another every day? Hospitals had been saying that oxygen shortage led to deaths. The media, too, flagged this issue daily,” Jain told reporters here.
“Television channels and newspapers reported how hospitals ran out of oxygen. It is completely false ad wrong to say that no one died due to oxygen shortage,” he said.
“There have been many deaths due to oxygen shortage in Delhi and many other places across the country. It was really sad and unfortunate,” Jain said.
The minister said the Centre did not ask for data related to such deaths but the city government had tried ascertaining the number on its own by setting up the panel.
On Tuesday, the Congress too accused minister of state for health Bharati Pravin Pawar of misleading Parliament by giving “false information” that there were no deaths due to lack of oxygen during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Congress leader K.C. Venugopal said he will move a privilege notice against the minister as she has “misled and misguided” the House.
His remarks come after the government informed Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that no deaths due to lack of oxygen were specifically reported by states and UTs during the second wave.
“Detailed guidelines for reporting of deaths have been issued by the Union Health Ministry to all states and UTs. Accordingly, all states and UTs report cases and deaths to the Union Health Ministry on a regular basis. However, no deaths due to lack of oxygen have been specifically reported by states and UTs,” Pawar said in a written reply.
Venugopal, on whose question the minister had replied in the House, said everyone has seen how people died due to a shortage of oxygen in several states, including the national capital.
“Actually, the minister misled the House and I will move a privilege against that minister definitely because the minister misguided and misled the House by giving false information,” he told reporters.
Taking a swipe at the dispensation, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said there is an acute shortage of sensitivity and truth in the government.
“There was not just a shortage of oxygen. There was an acute shortage of sensitivity and truth then, it was there then and is there now too,” Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi.
Referring to an all-party meeting on COVID-19 management called by the Centre where Prime Minister Narendra Modi also spoke, Venugopal said, “I don’t know if the PM is also giving this type of answer in his presentation.”
Upping the ante against the Centre, senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram said the government has perfected the art of facing every tragedy with bluff and bluster”.
“First, it was no shortage of vaccines. Just yesterday, Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh reported it has run out of vaccines. It is the same story in many vaccination centres,” he tweeted
Congress leader Jaiveer Shergill said by claiming that no one died because of oxygen shortage, the government has “mocked and insulted” the deceased and their families.
“The BJP government’s statement that no one died due to shortage of oxygen is even a bigger lie than China did not enter Indian territory, he told reporters here.
“The BJP’s addiction to spreading fake news, peddling propaganda and turning a blind eye to the pain of people has reached dangerous proportions, he added.
Shergill said the government has also “insulted” the efforts of the judiciary which practically sat every day to do the job of the government to arrange oxygen.
“The BJP is ‘Besharam Jhooti Party”. By saying that no one died because of shortage of oxygen, the government has mocked and insulted those who died and their families,” the Congress leader said.
He said the minister who made the statement should immediately apologise to the nation.
Replying to the allegation of under-reporting of COVID-19 deaths, Mandaviya said in Parliament that the central government only compiles and publishes data sent by states.
State governments register deaths. “Our job is to publish that data and nothing else. We haven’t told anyone to show fewer numbers (of deaths) or less positive cases. There’s no reason for that,” he said in his reply to a short duration discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic in Rajya Sabha.
The minister said the prime minister had repeatedly asked chief ministers to do large numbers of testing and record deaths.
“There is no reason to hide deaths but whom are you blaming? Who does registration? States do. Who decides on statistics? States do. Government of India compiles and publishes data received from the states,” Mandaviya said.
Taking part in the discussion earlier, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjuna Kharge charged that the government’s COVID-19 death toll figure of 4-5 lakh is “false” and conservative and claimed the average number of deaths cannot be less than 52.4 lakh so far in the country
(With PTI inputs)
The story has been updated with Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain’s quotes.