Last night, while hearing an urgent petition filed by Max Hospital about acute oxygen deficiency, the Delhi High Court made an interesting remark while castigating the government for ‘failing to address’ the medical emergency in the capital city on account of the COVID19 second wave surge.
The division bench comprising Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli pulled up the Central Government for providing exemption to steel and petroleum industries while banning the use of oxygen for industrial purposes.
Is court’s criticism of government decision justified?
On Sunday, the Centre had prohibited the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes by manufacturers and suppliers forthwith from 22 April based on the recommendation of an inter-ministerial Empowered Group (EG-II) which was constituted in March 2020 and has members from all the centre, all states and industry bodies. However, some vital industries were exempted from the order, including petroleum refineries and steel plants.
While one appreciates the HC judges’ urgency to solve the issue brought before them, in their sweeping criticism of the government, they have lost sight of some important factors: Bharat’s daily production capacity of medical oxygen is 7,287 MTPD (metric tonnes per day) while the country’s current demand is ~ 5500 MTPD (peak demand during the first wave was 2800 MTPD).
The current problem is occurring due to regional imbalance in production and demand, and more specifically due to logistical limitations – lack of cryogenic tankers, storage tanks in hospitals, cylinders etc. Now, Railways is also being used to transport liquid oxygen from the Eastern parts, and IAF is also being pressed into service.
However there is every chance of demand increasing further in the second wave, so to be prepared for that eventuality, industrial oxygen use has been curtailed and a tender floated for importing 50,000 MT of liquid medical oxygen. But if we completely stop industrial oxygen supplies to petroleum refineries as the Delhi HC wants, how will we produce the petrol required to run oxygen tankers on the roads?
It is important to note that steel plants and oil refineries are also pitching in – there is no ban on these industries supplying medical oxygen, just that they have not been prohibited from using oxygen for themselves as well. An important distinction that the court overlooked.
The judiciary’s scathing comment on industry being ‘driven by greed’ couldn’t have been more off the mark! Everyone is pitching in, whichever way they can. A recent interview by CEO of INOX Air, the producer of around half of our country’s medical oxygen, shows how industry and government have been working together for over an year.
Q. In April 2020, too, the government decided to divert industrial oxygen for medical purposes. How important was this decision?
A: It was the most crucial decision ever. It was game-changing for India. Earlier, about 70 percent used to go for industrial purposes that has come down. On an all-India basis, out of 7,200 MTPD, around only 15 percent is now going to industry…. The speed at which the government is addressing the issue taking the public sector along is absolutely phenomenal.
Such ignorance is not surprising, given the amount of misinformation our English-language media is peddling on the topic, and with judges having previously shown a proclivity to rely on MSM reports including those appearing in in dubious propaganda outlets like NDTV, The Wire, Caravan etc.
Colonized mindset of looking down upon ‘native subjects’
“If Tatas can divert their oxygen, why can’t others do it ? This is the height of greed if we can say that. There is no humanity left or what? How is this that the government is so oblivious to the ground reality. We can’t have people die?”, the bench asked.
Yes, Tata Steel has indeed diverted 200-300 tonnes of industrial oxygen for medical use and should be applauded for that. But so have ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India, JSW Steel and public sector companies like SAIL, Vizag Steel Plant.
Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd has tweaked manufacturing at its Jamnagar oil refineries to produce over 700 tonnes a day of medical-grade oxygen which is being supplied free of cost to states badly affected by Covid-19 like Maharashtra.
Clearly, Bharat does not lack humanity. Everyone in the country wants to unitedly emerge from this crisis as fast as we can. But panicking and not taking measured, thoughtful decisions can have even worse consequences.
Is the judges’ praise for Tata and ignorance of Ambani’s effort reflective of the innate prejudice our elites have for Hindu businesses? Is Ambani easy to mock for elites, andolan-jeevis and ‘secular’ netas because he is the archetypal baniya – a community which has been persistently vilified in leftist academia and popular culture? Such thinking could also be a knock-on effect of Nehru, who had once said, “Never talk to me about the word profit; it is a dirty word”.
Do some other Hindu businessmen like Bajaj and Birla escape the same opprobrium heaped on an Ambani, because they are more deracinated and Westernised in their outlook? Is Mukesh Ambani mocked and bashed because he ‘dares’ to publicly celebrate Hindu festivals and do puja?
Such attitudes are also seen in a large proportion of the middle class and rich sections of Hindu society. Indigenously manufactured Covaxin had to face a sustained propaganda campaign on its safety and efficacy, while there is a clamor for allowing much higher priced foreign vaccines that want complete immunity from regulatory oversight. Foreign tycoons like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are celebrated, Tata and Premji are looked up to, but Ambani & Adani are mocked as ‘crony capitalists’! Do we really think that any business anywhere in the world survives without lobbyists, or without pushing the ‘spirit of the law’? Have we forgotten that the Tata group had featured conveniently in the Radia tapes controversy?
Our elites, and under their influence a large section of the middle class, suffer from self-alienation and internalized Hinduphobia. They exhibit the textbook definition of ‘colonial consciousness’ or ‘colonial mentality’:
Colonial mentality is the internalized attitude of ethnic or cultural inferiority felt by people as a result of colonization, i.e. them being colonized by another group. It corresponds with the belief that the cultural values of the colonizer are inherently superior to one’s own.
Factors overlooked by HC
While High Courts across the nation seem to be getting involved in localized, executive decisions about how to handle the pandemic, a lot of their criticism has been reserved for the central government.
Kumbh Mela (which was cut short, and showed a minimal test positivity of 0.9% when over 2 lakh tests were done during peak attendance) and election rallies have been the focus of criticism by all and sundry and labelled ‘super-spreaders’, but the so-called farmers protest which has logjammed Delhi’s borders have escaped all scrutiny. Even now, when the 2nd wave is raging, these protestors are not being read the riot act by courts, Delhi government or central government. They are planning even more ‘events’ in April and May as Frontline, the far-left propaganda arm of The Hindu media group, happily reports!
There are reports that despite all possible support by governments, Oxygen suppliers in Delhi are facing long delays due to highway blockades. In one case, Delhi Police had to provide an escort to open a path for the tankers. Now, who is playing with people’s lives? Have we done any analysis on how many NRI-returnees from UK and Canada who participated in these protests turned out to be carriers of mutant strains of the virus?
As this well-argued piece by a defence veteran puts it:
It defies logic as to why the Prime Minister of the country should chair meetings for supply and distribution of medical oxygen or why a Chief Minister should be requesting him for additional supplies for his state. This is not a subject that needed such escalation. Health is a state subject and concerned state departments should have been seized of the need for this vital commodity in advance instead of waking up when the patient count had crossed two hundred thousand nationally. The center at the best should have acted as a prodder or catalyst to get them moving instead of controlling and failing.
So while some state governments like TN and UP were inaugurating new oxygen plants in their states in the Oct-Nov timeframe last year, some other states chose to rely on adversarial, spit-and-scoot politics, narrative setting, and sparring with the centre in courts. It is time that courts let the executive do its job, and redirects all PILs on the Covid second wave to the Empowered Group (EG-II) or appropriate government task force/body.
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