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Centre vs Centre — oxygen quota stokes public spat between PGIMER and Chandigarh admin

PGIMER alleged Chandigarh administration had blocked its access to oxygen, while the latter accused the premier hospital of 'illegally' accessing supplies beyond its allocation.

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Chandigarh: A fight erupted between the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, and officials of the union territory administration Saturday over the supply of oxygen.

The PGIMER alleged the Chandigarh administration had blocked its access to oxygen, while the latter accused the premier hospital of “illegally” accessing supplies beyond its allocation. The dispute, however, appeared to have been resolved by Sunday, following intervention by Chandigarh administrator V.P. Singh Badnore.

Both the PGIMER and the Chandigarh administration work under the control of the Union government. While the PGIMER reports to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the administration of Chandigarh is headed by an administrator appointed by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Ironically, the PGIMER and Chandigarh administration’s tug-of-war over oxygen supply came a day after the Punjab and Haryana High Court asked Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula, together called the Tri-city, to have a common command centre to tackle the pandemic. While Mohali is a part of Punjab, Panchkula is in Haryana.

The spat came to light through late-night press statements issued by the PGIMER and the Chandigarh administration. It was accompanied by an admission from PGIMER that its daily allocation of 20 metric tonnes (MT) of oxygen — out of a total 40 MT procured by Chandigarh — was proving an impediment in efforts to boost its capacity to handle more Covid patients

In its statement, the PGIMER claimed to have received information from an oxygen plant in Derabassi (Punjab) that officers of the Chandigarh administration had directed the latter to not supply medical oxygen to the hospital. The Chandigarh administration, meanwhile, accused the medical institute of getting refills at the Derabassi plant “illegally”.

Badnore subsequently tweeted an assurance to PGIMER that supply of oxygen to the institute will not be disrupted.

“Oxygen supply to Hptls [hospitals] including #PGIMER is being closely monitored #PGIMER is lifesaver & premier health institute of Northern India won’t let down its request will see there is no O2 shortage Meanwhile thanks to @cmohry for 3 MT O2 for #PGIMER.”

The intervention by the administrator seemed to have cooled things down. Chandigarh CEO Yashpal Garg told ThePrint Sunday that the matter had been resolved as PGIMER is being given an additional 3MT of oxygen from Haryana. ThePrint reached PGIMER director Dr Jagat Ram by calls and text messages, but there was no response till the time of publishing this report.

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The battle for oxygen

In a press communication issued at 9 pm Saturday, the PGIMER stated, “Considering the Covid-19 patient load here in PGIMER and the incessantly increasing demand of medical oxygen, this kind of directive [the administration’s alleged instruction to the oxygen plant] can lead to further panic in the already catastrophic situation.”

According to the PGIMER, the team of officials who had stopped their oxygen supply included Yashpal Garg (CEO Chandigarh Housing Board and nodal officer for oxygen supply in Chandigarh), Jasjit Singh (director of industries Chandigarh), and Manjeet Singh (nodal officer Chandigarh). The PGIMER said these officials had visited the Derabassi plant during the day and issued the orders.

Almost immediately afterwards, the adviser to the Chandigarh administrator, Manoj Parida, issued a statement on the issue too.

“We are already giving 20 MT oxygen to PGI out of our quota of 40 MT. No more oxygen /cylinders can be given without disrupting the functioning of our government and private hospitals assigned to us,” said Parida.

The PGIMER, he added, has requested the central government to enhance their quota of oxygen from 20 MT to 40 MT and the Chandigarh administration fully supports this request.

A little later, Yashpal Garg also issued a statement, saying that the union territory had been assigned a total quota of 40 MT of oxygen, which included 20 MT oxygen exclusively for PGIMER. The rest is to be used for other government hospitals in Chandigarh, as well as private facilities in the city, he added.

“Out of 20 MT quota of oxygen, about 17 MT oxygen is directly used in the GMCH-32, GMSH-16 and Hospital Sector-48 [the three government hospitals in Chandigarh],” he said. The remaining 3 MT, Garg added, is given to a private vendor in Derabassi to refill oxygen cylinders of government hospitals under the Chandigarh administration and private hospitals in the city.

“Today [Saturday] a team of senior officers of the administration visited the oxygen refilling plant at Derabassi. Despite clear instructions to the vendor that the quota provided [was] to be used for specific hospitals, it was observed that some of the cylinders of PGIMER were filled without any permission from UT Administration,” alleged Garg. “This was in gross violation of directions of Chandigarh Administration. The private vendor was directed to use the 20 MT oxygen quota for the specific hospitals only and for filling of cylinders of PGIMER, the oxygen may be supplied by PGIMER out of its exclusive quota of 20 MT.”

His statement said the directions were given to avoid any disruption in the supply of oxygen cylinders to government and private hospitals in the city.

On Sunday, Garg told ThePrint that the “PGIMER does not have any quota from our refilling plant where their cylinders were being filled”.

“Had we not been facing a shortage ourselves, we wouldn’t have flagged the issue. But our oxygen demand has increased manifold in the past few days and we have to fulfill that.”

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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