With oxygen going rare, Delhi gasps for breath of life

Disruption in supply an unending nightmare for hospitals, patients & kin


April 28, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

With rise in number of Covid-19 patients and no beds in hospitals, thousands of people in Delhi forced to turn their homes into hospitals for their ill family members. All they need is oxygen supply, they say. But that has proven to be as rare as a hospital bed.

Kayam Raza, a resident of Jaitpur Khadda Colony has been waiting in the queue since morning to get his oxygen cylinder refilled. Raza, whose 70-year-old mother is sick and in urgent need of oxygen, says he could not get her admitted in any hospital and has been waiting to just arrange for a refill of his oxygen cylinder. However, this is not his first visit. He says that he visited the previous day and could only refill his cylinder after 24 hours. Now since it’s over he is back again to get another refill. “We somehow arranged two cylinders and if one is empty, we use the other cylinder. We waited in the queue for hours. I have been here the whole night, still I couldn’t get anything. The government is doing nothing. We are treating my mother at home as we are not getting a bed in any hospital,” says Raza.

Raza is hardly the only one desperately seeking a refill of oxygen to save a loved one. Outside the factory of Vaibhav Oxygen, a refilling plant at Mohan Estate industrial area in New Delhi, a large crowd has been gathering every day, round the clock hoping to get just the amount that their family member would need. On Wednesday, the scenario is no different as hundreds have gathered, some since last night, in anticipation of arrival of fresh supplies to enable them to fill up their cylinders and rush back to their hospitals or the loved ones gasping for breath. Family members of Covid-19 patients say that due to unavailability of beds in hospitals they have to keep the Covid-19 positive patients at home and manage oxygen supply on their own.

Some people were waiting outside the refill centre for more than two days with dozens of empty cylinders (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

“I had been waiting in line since 11 am in the morning yesterday and till 7 pm in the evening. They said there is no supply left. Then I had to go back. Now I have come back again. The patient is at home. Till the time we had oxygen we gave it, but now we need more oxygen. If we don’t get here we will have to wait. This is the main plant. I am again planning to wait till evening. There is no alternative. Nobody will admit the patient too,” says Kapil Dev from Ali Vihar in South Delhi.

Maan Singh from Malviya Nagar in South Delhi says that his relative is admitted in Max hospital in Malviya Nagar and that he had been waiting since 6 am but has not been able to get a refill so far. “They say that a truck is coming from Sonipat and only when it arrives then I will get oxygen. There is no management over here. The hospital authorities are also unable to arrange oxygen on their own,” he says.

Officials say lot of oxygen gets wasted while refilling small oxygen cylinders (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

People outside the refill centre say that a patient himself came in the morning to get oxygen and waited in the ambulance, yet he could not get it.

However, it is not just the relatives of patients waiting for a refill at Vaibhav Oxygen. Many hospitals have also despatched their personnel with trucks carrying over 50 cylinders each. Irfan Khan from Life Line Hospital in Laxmi Nagar, East Delhi says that he has been waiting with his truck for two days. “I have a total of 15 cylinders in my truck, yet I am unable to refill oxygen. There are people who have over 50 cylinders and they are also waiting since 2-3 days. We will continue to wait in the line as we don’t have any other option. Had there been any other place we would have definitely gone there. But there is no place where we can get oxygen. We are waiting here with the hope that once they the supply, the plant will start and then we can get it. It is the job of government to provide them with raw material so that they can help us. But the government has failed. Central government blames the state and the state government is blaming the Centre. In this only the people are suffering. Hospital authorities tell the patients before admitting them that they need to arrange for an oxygen cylinder first. Because they also don’t have it. How will they arrange it?” asks Khan.

Like Khan, the owner of the plant also blames the government for the inefficiency.

People waiting to get their cylinders back after refill (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

Krishan Kumar, the owner of Vaibhav Oxygen, that has been operating since 1997, says the reopening of the plant completely depends on the officers on duty who are in charge of supplying oxygen to the plant. “Their duty is to provide liquid oxygen to us. They have failed. Their planning has failed. No one is responding. I have put all the numbers in front of the gate, but they are not helping us to provide liquid oxygen. We can feed up to 20 tonnes per day. But we have not received any supply since two days. If we don’t get the supplies, how are we supposed to refill. No officers are ready to reply. It is a collapse of system. The system can help us. We are ready to help the system. But the system is not cooperating. They are not even responding. I have no secret information, therefore I have put all the numbers of concerned authorities in front of the gate. Last year there was no problem. Now it is 100 pc problem. No one is ready to help in any way. The government has made it really complex. The supply has finished,” says Kumar.

A refill costs INR 300 for big cylinders and INR 150 for smaller ones (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

However, there are many who accuse the suppliers of favouritism and say that they favour those with contacts. “I waited yesterday the entire day but could not get. But people who know them, don’t even have to wait as they come and straight away go inside, fill in the cylinders and leave. Yesterday, I saw a lot of people, who had a deal with the police here, they brought 4-6 cylinders with them, refilled and then left. Nobody is ready to listen. They push us and ask us to leave. They even did a lathi-charge yesterday,” Mohammed Feroz Khan from Laxmi Nagar, who had a small cylinder with him for a patient at home, tells Media India Group.

“If a man is accompanied by a policeman, they straight away go inside get it refilled and then leave. It doesn’t matter whether we too have an emergency,” says Mohammad Umair Saifi from Okhla. However, the team of  Media India Group did not witness any such activities.

On Tuesday, a tanker supplied 15 tonnes of oxygen to Vaibhav Oxygen (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

When a tanker finally reached the plant just before noon, a visible wave of relief appeared on the faces of people waiting patiently in the scorching sun on the hottest day of the year so far.

Refilling operations began immediately and dozens of people left in less than an hour with their cylinders refilled and the ray of hope rekindled. The owner of the plant said that even though he doesn’t have the license for individuals and only for hospitals, he is still trying to help the lot in any way possible.

However, for many others, the wait would continue as the rising demand outstrips scanty supply by several times over. Many like Raza would be back as refill would be over in a day and they would need more oxygen again.

From him and for thousands of others in Delhi or millions elsewhere in the country, it’s an unending nightmare.



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