New Delhi: At any given time of day, there is a long queue of people, who have come from across the city, waiting outside Waseem Gases, a small air conditioner repair shop in south-east Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh. All in the hope of getting oxygen.
As the national capital reels under an acute shortage of medical oxygen, triggered by the steep rise in Covid cases in the second wave of the pandemic this month, Waseem Gases, has become a beacon of hope for those desperately seeking oxygen to save their loved ones.
“We own three AC repair shops in Shaheen Bagh. During summer, we store oxygen and nitrogen in one of our shops, Waseem Gases, because it’s needed by technicians to repair and service ACs. We have been getting our supply of gases from the Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area in Badarpur for years now,” 30-year old Waseem Malik, owner of the shop, told ThePrint Tuesday.
Waseem started helping patients in the neighbourhood with medical oxygen last year when the pandemic first hit the country. “But there wasn’t much demand for it then. This year, thousands have been coming in everyday. The number of customers went up especially after a couple of boys from the neighbourhood posted our shop’s photo on Twitter last week. But, unfortunately, we do not have enough supplies to provide oxygen to everyone anymore,” he added.
Waseem charges Rs 100-130 for each refill, which is far less than what hospitals usually demand for the same. He has also been providing oxygen free to those who are unable to pay for it.
With the pressure on oxygen plants increasing, Waseem’s supplies have also taken a hit. He and his brother take turns waiting outside the plant in Badarpur for supplies. But with what they get running out in a few hours, the hardest thing he has had to do, is turn away those arriving at his shop.
On Tuesday, the Centre pulled up the Kejriwal government for the oxygen chaos in the capital and said that “the central government will take over gas refilling units, if the state cannot handle the situation”.
As of 27 April, Delhi has recorded a total of 10,72,065 cases with 15,009 deaths and 9,58,792 recoveries.
“People call us in desperation”
If last year Shaheen Bagh became synonymous with the anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests, this year it’s Waseem’s shop that has drawn attention to the area, at least for those living in Delhi.
In the days after the photos of his shop went viral, Waseem and his brother, Zubair Kasaar, took turns to fill cylinders 24X7 — if one worked during the day, the other worked nights.
“At that time we filled as many as over a thousand cylinders every day. But now we can fill only about 300-400 cylinders daily, as there are huge queues outside the plant in Badarpur and we are managing to get only this much, that too after queuing for eight-ten hours,” said Waseem.
With the demand for oxygen rising in the city, Waseem Gases too has been now forced to refill cylinders only once a day. “People call us in desperation asking for oxygen but we can only provide in the morning now, as it is very difficult to get supplies even at the plant,” he said.
For the past two days, Waseem has found it difficult to refill his 25 jumbo cylinders, each with a capacity of about 140 litres of oxygen, at the Badarpur industrial estate.
“There are long queues. We have been getting our gases from there for years, so initially it was easy for us to continue receiving supplies. The people at the plant would call us and inform when oxygen was available, and we would go in a tempo truck to pick it up. But now the plant too is seeing massive queues. People are landing up at all industrial estates in Delhi looking for oxygen, as even hospitals are asking people to get their own cylinders. So we too receive limited refills,” he said.
Waseem’ shop opens at 9am now and refills cylinders till stocks last. For the past three-four days, they have run out in less than two hours. While Waseem and his brothers take turns to go and queue at the plant, in the hope of receiving another round of refills, the steady stream of customers looking for oxygen continue to pour in through the day.
“I have been looking for a refill since 7am. I didn’t even have a cylinder, but I got one from a friend in Gurugram and now I have come here because I heard this shop is open. But even they have run out,” said Latika Sharma, a Lajpat Nagar resident, as she waited outside Waseem’s shop.
When they run out of stock, those manning the shop direct waiting customers to try other industrial plants.
“I was hoping to get a refill here [at Waseem’s shop] for my relative in Sarita Vihar, but there isn’t any oxygen here, so they are asking me to try in Noida or Naraina,” said Shoaib, a Jamia Nagar resident.
Waseem asks customers calling him in search of oxygen, to keep an eye on his WhatsApp display image, which he uses to announce whether oxygen supply is available or not at the shop. For the past few days, the most difficult thing that Waseem said he has had to do is say no to desperate pleas for help.
“People are not willing to understand. They often demand oxygen and start screaming on the phone [when told it is not available]. We understand that they are desperate, but even our hands are tied.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)