Triggering a row with the Centre amid the surge in coronavirus cases, Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday claimed he tried to discuss the issue of oxygen supply with Narendra Modi on phone but was told that the prime minister was busy campaigning for the West Bengal elections.
The chief minister made the statement during an online meeting with industrialists and representatives of trade bodies while underlining the need for ramping up oxygen supply and other health infrastructure to deal with the pandemic.
"Maharashtra needs oxygen supply and all oxygen produced is being used for medical purposes. I contacted Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the need for oxygen supply, but he wasn't available on phone yesterday since he was busy with the West Bengal poll campaign. But the Centre is cooperating with the state," Thackeray was quoted as saying during the interaction with the industry in a release issued by the Chief Minister's Office.
"Keeping in mind the sharply increasing number of infected patients, we have also informed the Prime Minister's Office regarding the expected increase in requirement of oxygen in the coming days. Even yesterday evening, I tried reaching out to the prime minister but, we were unable to speak as he was caught up in election duties in West Bengal. However, we have been receiving total support from the Union Government in this battle with corona," the chief minister said.
Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, on Saturday evening, said he had spoken to the Maharashtra chief minister and assured him of adequate and uninterrupted supply of medical oxygen and also all possible support with regards to the healthcare infra, medicines and therapeutics.
In another tweet, Vardhan said he had discussed with Thackeray strict measures to be taken for containment, surveillance and treatment of COVID-19 cases.
Earlier, Union minister Piyush Goyal attacked Thackeray, saying he was "shocked and saddened to see petty politics being played". Maharashtra had so far received the largest quantity of oxygen among the states, Goyal claimed.
"Maharashtra is suffering from an inept and corrupt government... People of Maharashtra are following 'Majha Kutumba, Majhi Javabadari' (my family, my responsibility) dutifully. It is time the chief minister also follows his duties in the spirit of 'Majha Rajya, Majhi Javabadari' (my state, my responsibility)," the Union minister said in a series of tweets.
Hitting back, NCP leader and state minister Nawab Malik tweeted, "PiyushGoyal ji, Please enlighten us with some facts, How many metric tons of Oxygen is produced in our country and how much oxygen has the central government given to Maharashtra State?"
In a letter addressed to the prime minister, Thackeray had said that medical oxygen requirement in the state is projected to reach 2,000 metric tonnes per day by April-end from the present 1,200 MT per day. Citing logistical hurdles in the transportation of liquid medical oxygen from neighbouring states, Thackeray also sought permission under the National Disaster Management Act to airlift oxygen from steel plants in eastern and southern parts of the country.
Medical-grade oxygen is used for the treatment of critical COVID-19 patients.
The chief minister also called upon the industry to wholeheartedly support the state government in not only ramping up the production of oxygen but also for the creation of additional oxygen beds, coronavirus testing facilities and vaccination centres.
'16 export companies told not to supply Remdesivir to Maharashtra': Nawab Malik
Meanwhile, his cabinet colleague Malik also alleged that the Union government had asked export companies not to supply the drug Remdesivir to the state, which drew a sharp rebuttal from state BJP leaders.
Malik's allegations on Remdesivir came days after the Centre banned its export because of a sudden spike in demand due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.
Taking to Twitter, Malik, the state minority affairs minister, said, "It is sad and shocking that when Government of Maharashtra asked 16 export companies for Remdesivir, we were told that the Central government has asked them not to supply the medicine to Maharashtra. These companies were warned, if they did, their license will be cancelled."
"This is a dangerous precedent and under these circumstances, Maharashtra Government will have no choice but to seize the stock of Remdesivir from these exporters and supply it to the needy," Malik said in a Twitter thread.
"There are 16 export-oriented units in our country that have 20 lakh vials of Remdesivir, since exports are now banned by the government, these units are seeking permission to sell this medicine in our country but the Central government is denying the same," he alleged.
The allegations were strongly refuted by Union Minster of State for Chemicals and Fertilisers Mansukh Mandaviya who said the government is making every effort to double the production of the drug in the country.
Maharashtra BJP spokesperson Keshav Upadhaye reacted sharply, saying, "Instead of making such wild and baseless allegations, Nawab Malik should provide proof or else he should apologise." BJP MLA Atul Bhatkhalkar also said that Malik should provide evidence, while Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra Legislative Council and BJP leader Pravin Darekar demanded Malik's resignation for making "false" accusations.
"Malik has levelled these allegations simply to hide the incompetence of the state government. The people in the state are dying because of a lack of oxygen supply. Malik made the charges to divert the attention," he said.
During the online interaction with the chief minister, industry spokespersons from Maharashtra informed that steps had already been taken to ramp up the production of oxygen in the state. Creation of ICU beds, COVID-19 testing and vaccination centres was on the immediate agenda of industry in the state, it was informed.
Industry representatives who attended included Uday Kotak, Niranjan Hiranandani, Deepak Mukhi, Harsh Goenka, Salil Parekh, Anant Goenka and Baba Kalyani.
With inputs from PTI