Amritsar, India – Amid an alarming medical oxygen shortage, the Punjab government has approached Prime Minister Narendra Modi to facilitate an “oxygen corridor” in Pakistan, India’s 550km-long archive. on (342 miles) northwestern state border.
There have been at least eight times requests made by Punjab Prime Minister Amarinder Singh and other politicians from the state asking Modi to take oxygen from Pakistan, with the town of Lahore nearly 50km (31 miles) the distance from Amritsar.
The demand to get oxygen from Pakistan came after the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan offered aid to India on April 25. Pakistan’s renowned charity Edhi also volunteered to send medical aid amid rising COVID-19 cases in the country.
However, the Modi nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has refused to seek any help from the “enemy country”, amid the deadly second wave of coronavirus that kills thousands of people every day.
“This denial proves fatal for Punjab patients who do not know what breath their last breath is,” member of parliament from Amritsar, Gurjit Singh Aujla, told Al Jazeera.
Aujla was the first to write to Modi on April 26 looking for a special oxygen corridor in Pakistan because it is geographically close. If he did not hear from the prime minister, he also wrote on April 27, followed by several letters on May 2 and May 5.
Meanwhile, Singh also issued a statement on May 4, saying the center had rejected his proposal to allow the local Punjab industry body to import oxygen from Pakistan through the nearby Wagah-Attari border. in Amritsar.
While more than 10 days have passed since the center’s denial, the disrupted oxygen supply chain in Punjab has yet to be restored.
Last week, at least three hospitals in Amritsar issued desperate SOS calls, saying their oxygen buffer had been depleted. The local administration arranged for life -saving gas from a neighboring district.
A government official aware of the crisis, who asked not to be named, said the number of SOS messages released to hospitals in recent days had disappeared. “Every day, every few hours, there are SOS calls at some hospitals,” he told Al Jazeera.
From 3,003 coronavirus patients in Punjab on April 13 to 6,947 patients on May 17, there has been more than double the increase in state infections in a month.
As of Monday, there were 73,616 active cases in Punjab, which is likely to exceed 100,000 next week.
State government data show from active cases, at least 25-30 percent of patients need regular oxygen support. The Indian health ministry has calculated that a critically ill COVID-19 patient needs between 10-60 liters of oxygen per minute.
On April 24, six patients lost their lives at Amritsar’s Neelkanth Hospital after the facility ran out of oxygen, the hospital’s managing director, Sunil Devgan told Al Jazeera.
“On April 23, our hospital was shocked by oxygen. From 20 cylinders a day, our consumption increased to 100 cylinders due to the pandemic. On the night of April 23, we continued to miss patients almost every half hour, ”he said.
Of the six people who died that night in the hospital due to lack of oxygen, five underwent COVID-19 treatment.
“Even with countless SOS calls, no one helped us. Even now, after many days, we are struggling to get oxygen at the right time. After instructions from the Punjab administration, no we are accepting serious COVID-19 patients now, ”Devgan said.
The daily oxygen consumption in Punjab on April 30 was 203.8 metric tones (MT). On May 7, it reached 250.6 MT, rising to almost 50 MT in a week. On May 17, it jumped to 304 MT.
However, the oxygen quota in Punjab was raised by the central government to 247 MT on May 11, after desperate requests made by the state over two weeks for at least 300 MT daily supply.
Of the allocated 247 MT of oxygen, almost 70 MT comes from a plant in Bokaro, a town in the eastern state of Jharkhand more than 1,750 km (1,088 miles) away. Punjab hospitals say oxygen from Bokaro barely reaches them at the right time.
On May 7, there was a shortage of 211 MT of oxygen from other plants in the country also due to logistics issues, with officials saying that the daily oxygen requirement in Punjab is more than what the state has reached per day.
Amid the logistical challenges of getting oxygen from Jharkhand, Singh on May 10 also urged Modi to increase the total oxygen quota from plants in states near Punjab.
“Why wait for oxygen from Bokaro, 1,758 kilometers away when we can get oxygen from Lahore which is only 50 kilometers away? Aujla told Al Jazeera.
The legislator proposed that the two countries create a trading system where they could exchange the vital resources they need.
“At a time when cases are also on the rise in Pakistan, this system of resource sharing through the Wagah-Attari border can be used for both countries,” he said.
“India is already getting help from China and other Islamic countries. If it is ashamed to take help from its so -called enemy, we can pay Pakistan or exchange sugar or wheat in exchange.
“If we can offer vaccines in Pakistan, why doesn’t it take away oxygen? Who knew it could improve our relationship with Pakistan, ”he said.
Relations between the two countries have remained tense since India became independent from British rule in 1947 and was divided by a bloody partition to form a Muslim -majority Pakistan.
The two nuclear-armed nationals have fought two of their three major wars over the disputed Himalayan territory in Kashmir, which they claim to be absolute but control parts of, with tensions between them. reached a peak in 2019 when India removed the special status of the part of Kashmir it controlled.
However, in a rare meltdown in their relations this year, the two countries reaffirmed their commitment to a 2003 ceasefire agreement along their disputed border with Kashmir. The meltdown was followed by letters exchanged between Modi and Khan, in which the two leaders emphasized the need for dialogue and good relations.
In addition to writing to Modi, Aujla also sent several letters to federal Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. He also approached the foreign ministry headed by Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on April 29 and parliamentary speaker Om Birla. He said that only Birla replied to him.
When asked by Al Jazeera for formal comments on the matter, India’s foreign ministry denied having a letter in Punjab about importing oxygen from Pakistan. Vardhan and other health ministry secretaries also did not respond to emailed questions sent by Al Jazeera.
BJP spokesman Vijay Chauthaiwale said he would not comment on the matter as it was related to bilateral relations between India and Pakistan.
Aujla was worried. “The situation in Punjab is worse than hand and mouth. A tragedy is waiting to happen,” according to Al Jazeera.