Srinagar: The Srinagar administration Thursday directed oxygen manufacturing units in the city to stop providing refills to private persons, societies and non-governmental organisations in a bid “to prevent black marketing of medical oxygen”.
The move has, however, drawn severe criticism from many residents and politicians, who have expressed concerns that banning NGOs and others from accessing medical oxygen will end up making Covid-19 patients more vulnerable to adverse medical conditions.
On Thursday, Srinagar District Magistrate Mohammad Aijaz, in an order, stated that several reports of black marketing of medical oxygen had reached his office, adding that this was interfering with the proper management of medical oxygen.
The order said that in view of the situation, the district magistrate was declaring “that all oxygen manufacturing units within the jurisdiction of district Srinagar shall supply oxygen refills only to designated hospitals/clinics and will stop supply to any private society/NGO with immediate effect”.
“Supply to private persons/societies/NGOs (other than private hospitals) shall be made only with prior approval of district magistrate Srinagar,” the order added.
It further stated that any private body intending to avail oxygen supply or refill facility should register their “genuine demand” with a nodal officer of the Covid-19 war room established by the administration.
Speaking to ThePrint, Aijaz defended the government’s decision. “We have continuously been receiving complaints of black marketing of oxygen,” he said. “The move will only help to smoothen oxygen supply and isolate individuals who are hoarding oxygen and even misusing names of credible NGOs. Our aim is simple, we need to ensure smooth oxygen supply for the most needy”.
The IAS officer also tweeted that the administration was only ensuring “fair and equal access to oxygen supply”.
To provide fair & equal access to oxygen supply to the most needy patients, things have been streamlined. Scuttlebutt has it as if somebody is being prevented. Not at all. In fact, proper mechanism in place will ensure regular supply in a smooth manner. Regards https://t.co/vIcsYPK3Fh
— Aijaz Asad (@AsadamAijaz) May 7, 2021
Move draws flak
Reacting to the development, former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah took to Twitter to express displeasure.
“Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Stopping the hoarding/black marketing of oxygen cylinders is a laudable goal,” Abdullah tweeted. “Preventing NGOs or making it tougher for them to help people get cylinders is dangerous. NGOs were working when the government was still in deep slumber.”
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Stopping the hoarding/black marketing of oxygen cylinders is a laudable goal. Preventing NGOs or making it tougher for them to help people get cylinders is dangerous. NGOs were working when the government was still in deep slumber. https://t.co/usjG6x3Mhn
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) May 6, 2021
NGOs involved in relief work in Kashmir also expressed their concern.
Mohammed Afaaq Sayeed, who heads the oxygen unit of Socio Reforms Organisation (SRO), said providing oxygen is a commitment and not a one-time affair.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have helped somewhere between 8,000-9,000 people access oxygen. At any given time, between 350-400 people need oxygen and not once but continuously. It is a commitment,” Sayeed said. “Besides Covid-19 patients we have dozens of others who also depend on medical oxygen. Does the government comprehend what will happen if this well-established cycle is broken.”
Sayeed acknowledged that black marketing of oxygen was a reality not only in Kashmir but across India but added that a blanket ban on NGOs to access oxygen was not the right way to go about the issue. “Instead, the government should form a squad that can deal with and take action against those engaging in these malpractices. You can’t punish an entire population,” he said.
Residents express concern
Residents across the city also expressed concern at the order.
Dr Qazi, a Srinagar resident, has six family members suffering from Covid-19 that includes his parents, wife and children. Although his mother is the only one requiring oxygen at the moment, the doctor has not faced any issues accessing it, thanks to NGOs. “This is an unprecedented medical emergency. If there are organisations that want to chip in and help, they should not be disallowed,” he told ThePrint.
Another Srinagar resident, Shahid Ahmed, whose mother suffers from non-Covid medical ailments, expressed similar concerns. “Does the government realise that there are other patients who do not suffer from Covid-19. Should we throw such patients onto the streets?” he asked. “My mother suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and she has needed continuous supply of oxygen for the last 2-3 months. What are we supposed to do now? Has the government been sleeping until now?”
Ahmed, who is a businessman by profession, added that many Kashmiri residents living abroad have called him to offer help. “These people know that we are sitting on a ticking time bomb and want to offer help. Many of them abroad have called and said they want to donate oxygen concentrators and other medical equipment,” he said. “But the government is planning to close those avenues that are actually working, let alone allow NRIs to help in the future.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)