Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka on Wednesday initiated an inquiry into the deaths of 24 people allegedly due to lack of medical oxygen at a Covid health centre in Chamarajanagar district on May 2, two state bureaucrats caught in the eye of the storm are pointing fingers at each other.
Chamarajanagar deputy commissioner (DC) MR Ravi has accused his Mysuru counterpart Rohini Sindhuri of blocking the transfer of oxygen from her district, leading to a critical delay in supply. Sindhuri has dismissed the charge.
A total of 24 patients, 23 of them Covid-infected, died at the Chamarajanagar district hospital over 24 hours due to alleged oxygen shortage. The Karnataka government on Wednesday appointed a retired high court judge, Justice BA Patil, as a one-man commission of inquiry to probe the matter. The order came following the directions of the Karnataka High Court, which had taken a serious note of the deaths in Chamarajanagar and recommended a judicial inquiry. The state government had previously appointed IAS officer Shivayogi Kalasad, the managing director of the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation, to investigate the matter within three days amid a wave of criticism from opposition parties.
However, later on Wednesday, the HC rapped the state government for making such an appointment without proper consultation. The court then ordered the government to go with a Karnataka State Legal Services Authority (KSLSA) committee headed by retired HC judge AN Venugopal Gowda, and that he would submit his report by Monday.
A spike in coronavirus cases has left hospitals across the country swamped, creating a critical shortage of oxygen, intensive care beds and ventilators. Many patients with Covid-19 need assistance with their breathing to stay alive. Medical centres have repeatedly raised such concerns over the past several days, triggering verbal sniping between the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre and states ruled by rivals over who is responsible, with the matter also reaching the courts.
On Tuesday, a screenshot of a WhatsApp message purportedly from a Chamarajanagar doctor to the Mysuru DC alleging blocking of oxygen supply started circulating. According to a statement made by Sindhuri to the media, “Transfer of 250 oxygen cylinders was considered to Chamarajanagar on humanitarian grounds by midnight of Sunday, with 40 cylinders reaching Chamarajanagar the same night.”
Ravi, however, alleged that this was far from the truth and that as of 6am on May 3, only 70 cylinders had reached his district.
In response, Sindhuri released another press note attaching a report submitted by the drug control department in Mysuru, showing the release of 251 oxygen cylinders by the suppliers towards Chamarajanagar Institute of Medical Sciences, with the last dispatch done at 3:15 am on May 3.
In the press note, Sindhuri said that the matter is under inquiry as per orders of the state government. However, the Chamarajanagar DC has made allegations without waiting for the inquiry to be completed, forcing her to make a few facts public, she said.
“The oxygen supplies to a district are entirely between the supplier/re-filler and the district. Another Deputy Commissioner has no role or authority in the same. For example, Mysuru oxygen supplies are from Ballari. If the supplier from Ballari supplies less, I cannot blame Deputy Commissioner Ballari. It is the responsibility of the district to manage its own oxygen supplies. If any supplier does not supply or district needs are not met then supervision and correction is by the State level officers. The DC Chamarajanagar should have coordinated with these State Level officers and got his supplies. He failed to do that and is now blaming DC Mysuru,” said the release.
Following the Chamarajanagar deaths, many politicians have expressed their displeasure against the Mysuru DC, some even asking for her removal.
AH Vishwanath, BJP leader from Mysuru, said, “At a time when we are concentrating on war rooms, we have IAS officers at war; it is very unfortunate. IAS officers are part of the government, so this judicial inquiry needs to be conducted at the earliest.”
Sindhuri also sparked controversy on April 8 when a note was issued from her office, asking travellers from Bengaluru to Mysuru to carry a negative RT-PCR certificate. It was retracted soon after, following criticism for “unnecessarily restricting intra-state travel”. Sindhuri later clarified that it was a mere advisory and not a mandatory order.