Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray playing politics over oxygen, says Railway Minister Piyush Goyal
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray reportedly tried to speak to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 17 about the severe oxygen shortage in the State, but could not get through, because the latter was campaigning in West Bengal, sources in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) said.
“The CM called the Prime Minister at about 10:30 a.m. this morning; this was his third attempt since yesterday to speak to Mr. Modi but we were told that he is busy campaigning in West Bengal and will return the call once he is back,” a source in CMO said.
However, the Union government on April 17 said it was “shocked and saddened to see petty politics being played” over the issue of oxygen shortage by Mr Thackeray.
Mr. Modi addressed two rallies in West Bengal on April 17 — in Asansol and Gangarampur.
Two day ago, Mr. Thackeray had written to Mr. Modi seeking his intervention in ensuring supply of Remidisivir and permission to airlift oxygen from northeastern States to Maharashtra, which is facing a shortage.
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The lack of response from the PMO has provided fresh ammunition to the Opposition to criticise the government’s negligent behaviour. Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi in a tweet said, “We will wait Hon. PM, for your election campaigning and rallies to conclude for an urgent intervention to save lives. But those who need Remdesevir and Oxygen may not have the luxury of time sir. PS: *EPIDEMIC IS AN EMERGENCY& NOT THE ELECTION.*”
Speaking at a press conference in Delhi, senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram also lashed out at Mr. Modi saying that he should have been at his desk coordinating with the State governments instead of campaigning in West Bengal.
“The PM should be at his desk, accessible to every CM of this country. Chief Ministers can’t be speaking to private secretary of the Prime Minister,” the former Finance Minister said.
The government, he said, should have planned in advance for scaling up the oxygen supply. There is enough capacity in this country to produce medical oxygen. “Why did the Prime Minister and his team ignore the fact that oxygen supply will become critical when the numbers double. They had a whole year to prepare for the second wave,” Mr. Chidambaram said.
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’ Brien tweeted, “Shocker. Maharashtra CM @OfficeofUT called Modi requesting for urgent supply of oxygen for his State. Was informed that the PM busy campaigning in Bengal. Will respond on his return,”
Adding to the controversy, NCP leader and Minister in the Uddhav Thackeray government, Nawab Malik, alleged that suppliers of Remidisivir injection have been specifically told by the central government not to supply the medicine to Maharashtra and instead divert it to Gujarat.
“Around 16 exporters are sitting on a storage of 20 lakh vials of Remidisivir. When the State government inquired about the supply, they informed that central government has prohibited them to supply the medicine to Maharashtra and has even threatened to cancel their permit if they do so,” said Mr. Malik. He said looking at the shortage of the medicine within the State, government will be left with no option but to seize entire storage.
He presented a letter from the Commissioner. Food & Drug Control Administration of Gujarat addressed to M/s BDR Lifesciences Pvt Ltd based in Vadodara directing the company to supply and trade Remidisivir only in Gujarat.
Govt rebuts CM
Hitting back at Mr. Thackeray, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal in a strongly worded statement said he was “saddened to see Uddhav Thackeray’s gimmicks” on the issue of oxygen supply and added that Mr. Thackeray needed to “stop his daily dose of shameless politics and take responsibility.”
“Government of India, with all stakeholders, is ensuring maximum oxygen production in India. We are currently producing 110% of oxygen generating capacity and diverting all available oxygen from industrial use to medical use,” Mr. Goyal said. He added that Maharashtra had so far received the highest quantity of oxygen in India and that the Centre was co-ordinating daily with States to assess needs and assure help.
He also revealed that the Prime Minister in his meetings to review oxygen availability etc. had stressed on synergy with State governments.
“Maharashtra is suffering from an inept and corrupt government and the Centre is doing its best for the people. People of Maharashtra are following ‘Majha Kutumbh, Majhi Javabdari’ (my family, my responsibility) dutifully. It is time the CM of the State also follows his duty in the spirit of ‘Majha Rajya, Majhi Javabdari’ (my State, my responsibility),” the Minister added.
Government sources told The Hindu that the sharp response had come after many days of “accusations and allegations” by Maharashtra leaders in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government.
Terming the actions a diversionary tactic from the State’s own “poor handling” of the COVID-19 pandemic “every time it comes under fire”. Sources said “when the CM of Maharashtra went down to the level of putting petty and untrue allegations against the Prime Minister, Ministers had to give a factual position. Our response should not be construed as just a tit-for-tat but a factual response,” said the source.