Opposition members in RS say oxygen shortage matter of shame, suggest better coordination with state govts

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New Delhi, Jul 20 (PTI) Opposition members criticised the handling of the Covid pandemic by the government and the vaccination programme while debating in Rajya Sabha and said people were dying on the streets due to lack of oxygen, which is a matter of shame in the 21st century.

While participating in a short duration discussion on the management of the pandemic, implementation of vaccination policy and challenges of a likely third wave, the Opposition members of the Upper House questioned the government's preparedness and suggested for a better coordination with the state governments.

Shantanu Sen of the AITC said that during the second wave, people were dying on the roads because of the scarcity of oxygen and this has happened in the 21st century, which is a 'matter of shame'. During Covid, the Centre took unilateral decisions and hands of state government were tied, he alleged.

'Lancet, the oldest medical journal, WHO, Supreme Court and several high courts and even countries like Brazil, Canada and the UK have categorically criticised the Covid fighting policy of India. What can be more shameful incidence for us,' he claimed.

The prime minister has talked about one earth and one health policy and on the contrary, a few months ago, he talked about three prices for one vaccine, Sen said.

'In India, we have one price for central government, one price for state government and another for private sectors,' he said, and claimed vaccine producing companies were not paid regularly and one of them has left India.

Amar Patnaik of the BJD, however, said the world is facing a pandemic after 100 years and no government was prepared for this.

'We cannot politicise this handling of the pandemic because no one is wiser. The relationship between the Centre and states and the cooperation is of paramount importance,' he said, adding neither the Centre alone or the state governments can handle alone, though health is a state subject.

Triuchi Siva of the DMK said that the people faced shortage of oxygen and asked why the government had not contemplated this.

'Had this MPLAD fund not been suspended, the 800 MPs would have taken up thousands of hospitals and provided funds for manufacturing of oxygen units,' he said while suggesting the government to hand over a high capacity vaccine manufacturing facility - Integrated Vaccines Complex (IVC) at Chengalpattu, near Chennai to the state government.

It was set up by PSU HLL Biotech and the Rs 700 crore unit is idle and unutilised because of lack of additional funds and the Tamil Nadu government would invite private parties to revive it, Siva said. Elamaram Kareem of the CPI (M) raised his concern over the job loss during the pandemic. Citing data from CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy), he claimed over 12.2 crore Indians lost their jobs during the coronavirus lockdown.

M V Shreyams Kumar (LJD) suggested that testing facilities need to be expanded before the beginning of the third wave.

He also asked the government to vaccinate all students writing competitive exams like NEET.

Besides, there is a need to speed up vaccination for children above 12, the member noted.

Kumar suggested reduction in the financial burden of Covid hospitals through mass insurance schemes.

The government should also look at aggressive containment measures just at the start of the third wave, he added.

Ram Gopal Yadav of Samajwadi Party suggested the government to increase the spending on health from the current 1.2 per cent of GDP to 3.5 per cent in the next 3-4 years.

M Thambdurai of AIDMK also participated in the debate.

Participating in the debate, BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta said: 'In handling the pandemic the role of the state has become paramount. Whatever people have thought as how much the state should occupy in the economy and society, in these exceptional circumstances, they have become the driving force.' It also requires trust for the state to be the driving force, which needs to be established.This requires transparency and should not fudge figures and the statistical reportage must be authentic, he said.

JDU's Ram Nath Thakur suggested an increase in the budget for healthcare in the country. He noted that the government should make preparations for tackling the expected third wave on a war footing.

Manoj Kumar Jha (RJD) alleged failure of the government machinery in taking appropriate steps during the second wave.

He claimed that it was a collective failure of the governments from 1947 till now as no dispensation focussed on creating healthcare facilities to take care of such pandemic.

Sanjay Raut (Shiv Sena) also attacked the government accusing it of 'inept handling' of the COVID situation in the country. He alleged that while the pandemic was spreading in the country, the government was busy sending vaccines and oxygen abroad.

Ashok Sidharth (BSP) said many government officials lost their lives in Uttar Pradesh as they were put on panchayat election duties.

Vandana Chavan (NCP) sought enhanced rate of vaccination in states. She also suggested swift development of vaccines meant for the children.

Sushil Kumar Gupta (AAP) said that changing the Health minister won't serve the purpose as the entire government was responsible for the mishandling of the Covid situation in the country.

GK Vasan of TMC (M), Kanakamedala Ravindra Kumar (TDP) and Balwinder Singh Bhunder (SAD) also spoke during the debate. PTI KRH MSS ZMN

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