Rajasthan is among the five worst-affected states in the second wave of coronavirus and has a very high growth rate of cases. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who is battling COVID-19 himself, spoke to Aman Sharma in an exclusive interview on the challenges his big state is facing and terms it a deep crisis.
What is the COVID-19 situation in Rajasthan, and what are the challenges?
A: We are in a lot of difficulty. The biggest difficulty is oxygen. I called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi three days ago asking for more oxygen supply for Rajasthan. Yesterday, I called up Home Minister Amit Shah, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Principal Secretary to PM, P.K. Mishra and Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba.
I told them that people would die due to lack of oxygen. Our active patients are as high as 1.7 lakh. Our growth rate of cases is among the highest in the country and we are among the top five states now in terms of active cases. I told them (PM and others) that we should get oxygen as per the formula drawn up by you.
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Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
We are in a deep crisis as we are getting too little oxygen. We are not getting enough Remdesivir either as we are getting only 30,000 injections for our active cases. But, Gujarat with 80,000 active cases is getting 1.25 lakh injections while Madhya Pradesh is getting 90,000 injections. I have asked the PM -- is this Justice?
Q: How much oxygen do you need? How dire is the situation?
A: As per the experience so far, 12 percent of the active patients need oxygen so 20,400 of our patients (out of 1.7 lakh Active cases) today need oxygen. So we need about 466 Metric Tonnes (MTs) of oxygen but are getting only 265 MTs and hence there is a shortage of nearly 201 MTs.
We have a share of 5 percent active cases in the country but oxygen allotment is only 1.6 percent. In a week’s time, we would need 550 MTs of oxygen if the growth of cases continues like now. Hence, we have requested the Centre that 201 MTs additional oxygen be allotted to us immediately today itself.
Our three ministers went to Delhi and met four senior Union Ministers on this, and I have spoken to the most important people in the country. If people die because of the oxygen shortage, it is neither in the state’s or the Centre’s interest as people will say their dear ones are dying while the governments are fighting.
So, both need to work together and not indulge in any blame game. Also, if states want to help fellow states with oxygen or medicines, that should be allowed under the Centre’s supervision.
Q: Former PM Manmohan Singh wrote to PM Modi with suggestions but got a terse reply from the Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan…
A: It was very unfortunate and condemnable. If a person like Manmohan Singh is writing to the PM, and he is putting across the sentiment of the Congress Working Committee…the reply was extremely unfortunate. Manmohan Singh in his letter did not criticize the government in any way.
But, a reply was made to be given by Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan which was highly improper. Some of the suggestions made by Singh were later implemented. But, they (Modi government) should be gracefully accepting such suggestions. In a democracy, graciousness is the way it should be.
Q: Do you agree with Centre’s new Vaccination strategy for 18-44 age group?
A: We had demanded earlier that the Centre should continue to supply vaccines to the states for the 18-44 age group in the same manner as it had supplied vaccines for the 60+ age group and the 45-59 age group. Even those supplies were falling short and if states started procuring themselves for the 18-44 age group from the private suppliers, the public would suffer as the vaccines would not be available at proper prices.
Q: You have said now that 18-44 age group in Rajasthan will be vaccinated for free…
A: States were not in the picture as the Centre had complete control over the vaccination exercise so far. The Centre had kept Rs 35,000 Crore in the budget for vaccination and never said earlier that states will have to pay for vaccines for a certain age-group.
If that was said to us some months earlier, we would have made provisions for the same in our state budgets. But now the Centre told us in April that we have to buy vaccines ourselves while our budgets are zero on that count. So our state budget is now getting disturbed and other development schemes will be impacted. When the Centre had the control (over vaccination), they had the responsibility too.
Q: Will you be able to start vaccinating 18-44 age group from May 1?
A: We have placed orders for vaccines with the manufacturers but no one knows when the vaccine supplies will come. We cannot start the vaccination drive for the 18-44 age group from May 1 as there is no supply. But we are ready to begin this drive as soon as we start getting the supplies.