Ten days after the Centre told Rajya Sabha that no deaths due to lack of oxygen were “specifically reported” by states and union territories during the second Covid-19 wave in the country, Goa health minister Vishwajit Rane said no deaths in the state had been directly attributed to the lack of oxygen.
“..no deaths have been directly attributed to the lack of oxygen. But definitely consumption per patient increased due to the strain of covid-19,” Rane said in a written reply to a question asked by independent MLA Rohan Khaunte.
In May, it was Rane who had stoked a controversy after he claimed that a drop in oxygen levels in the Covid-19 ward of the government-run Goa Medical College (GMC) in the early hours of the day had led to deaths of several Covid patients. On Friday, answering a question asked by Leader of Opposition Digambar Kamat, Rane wrote, “At no point in time, the Oxygen supplies at GMC ran out of stock and thus, no death has been reported to have caused due to non-supply of Oxygen.”
Twenty-four questions related to Covid-19 were asked by MLAs, mostly from opposition parties. Rane had submitted written replies to the questions. The three-day session of the Goa legislative assembly, however, concluded on Friday evening without a debate on the subject of Covid-19 or oxygen shortage as opposition MLAs from Congress, Goa Forward Party (GFP), Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and independents walked out protesting the “hasty” passing several bills and demands introduced by the Pramod Sawant government.
Kamat said, “We had demanded that these bills be referred to the select committee. These are important bills and we need some time to study them so we said refer them to select committee and call a one day session after 15 days exclusively to deal with the bills. We were compelled to step into the well because the Speaker denied us that.”
GFP President and Fatorda MLA Vijai Sardesai said, “We wanted to discuss whether deaths happened due to oxygen shortage or not. But what is happening in the house is murder of democracy and we don’t want to be party to that.”
The opposition launched a high-pitched attack on Sawant over rapes in the state, alleged environmental destruction, river Mhadei dispute and the recent floods during the assembly session that concluded in the early hours of the following day on two out of three days. Rane, however, did not have to face the heat from the opposition as no debate over Covid-19 management and deaths allegedly due to oxygen shortage took place.
“He (Rane) has said this earlier also. He has made a public statement. The bills are also important. Some of them go to the root of the Constitution. We had asked the Speaker to give us a ruling but he did not do that. What option did we have? These are important bills,” Kamat said. Asked if the opposition felt it was important to question Rane over Covid-19 management in Goa in the assembly, Kamat said, “We will expose him even otherwise.”
Reacting to Rane’s replies denying deaths of Covid-19 patients due to oxygen shortage, Sardesai, however, said in a tweet that various media had reported Rane’s statement on deaths caused by oxygen shortage on May 11. “What is this BJP government in Goa talking about? Why are they mocking the suffering of Goans? His party said in a tweet that Rane’s claim was “Vile and inhuman!” The GFP tweeted, “Real #Goemkars died, @visrane! In #Goa. If you don’t feel any respect or sympathy towards their grieving families, at least pretend!”
In a written reply to Congress MLA Alexio Lourenco, Rane stated, “during sudden surge of Covid active cases in the 2nd week of May, the demand for oxygen had suddenly shot up. But due to extra efforts put in by the Government, additional oxygen was made available and at no point in time, none of the Government hospitals in the State ran out of oxygen supplies. Therefore no deaths have been reported to have been caused due to no supplies of oxygen in any Government hospitals in the State till date.”
Health minister Vishwajit Rane had first stirred up a storm when he claimed on May 11 that 26 Covid-19 patients had died in the Goa Medical College in the early hours of the day when supply of oxygen was interrupted. That was also the day Goa recorded its single day highest mortality count of 75.
Sardesai, whose party was among the petitioners before the High Court of Bombay at Goa, had claimed on in May that 83 people had died in GMC in five days, not because of Covid-19 but because of oxygen shortage and Covid-19 mismanagement.
Medical Superintendent and acting Dean S M Bandekar had said on May 16 that there cannot be a correlation between the drop in oxygen supply in the Covid wards and deaths of patients. Rane, who had first highlighted the deaths, then said, “you cannot co-relate a particular death to a particular situation”.
On June 28, the High Court of Bombay at Goa observed that there were “serious issues relating to the supply of oxygen at the Goa Medical College” in May and said, “some lessons will have to be learned from the unfortunate events of May 2021, so that the numerous causalities that arose, especially at GMC, may not have been in vain.” The High Court, however, also said, “There was no clarity as to whether there was a deficiency in the oxygen reserves or whether there were logistical difficulties in the matter of actual supply of oxygen to the patients.”