Patna: With the COVID-19 crisis turning from bad to worse in Bihar, as lack of oxygen, beds and proper treatment on time continue to claim hundreds of lives, the demand for sacking state health minister Mangal Pandey is growing.
The demand to sack Pandey gained ground after the head of the medicine department of the government-run Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital on Friday requested the government to relieve him in view of lack of oxygen and difficulty to treat and save COVID patients.
Last month, the government-run Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH) medical superintendent had asked the government to relieve him from his duties owing to difficulties in treating those in serious condition for lack of oxygen.
It was also reported that a top authority of Patna-based Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences had expressed helpless in the court during the hearing of a PIL last week as acute shortage of oxygen beds had not been increased. All three are designated COVID hospitals in the state.
The Opposition Mahagathbandhan, including Left parties, has demanded that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar sack Pandey, who is a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.
As of now, the government has failed to handle the alarming COVID situation that forced the Patna High Court to repeatedly pull it up in the the past three weeks. The court directed the government to inform it about the measures taken to provide oxygen supply to hospitals, availability of beds, ventilators, medicines and treatment.
Bihar Leader of Opposition and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav on Saturday used the hashtag #Resign Mangal Pandey to demand the health minister’s sacking. In his tweet ,Tejashwi said: “Will Nitish Kumar refute that after NMCH’s superintendent offered to relieve him now DMCH’s top officials has exposed the lack of oxygen and poor infrastructure and offered to relieve him. State health minister is a total disaster and he has no right to continue on his post. He should be sacked immediately”.
The DMCH official, in his letter, described the COVID situation as an ‘emergency’ in the hospital, which is the largest healthcare centre in North Bihar. He mentioned that on May 6 night, when oxygen shortage was alarming, he had sent an SOS to the hospital superintendent to provide cylinders, as he feared that a large number of COVID patients undergoing treatment might die if oxygen was not available. But oxygen was not provided. Later, he requested a top district administration official to save the lives of COVID patients by arranging oxygen, and he managed it.
On Saturday, the CPI (ML) state secretary Kunal also demanded Pandey’s sacking. “Anger against him is growing among common people over his failure to handle COVID crisis. Pandey has lied repeatedly that there was no shortage of oxygen. The fact on the ground is totally different. The court also pulled up the government over failure of oxygen supply to hospitals”, he told NewsClick.
Early this week, the Patna High Court had observed that the state government had failed in controlling the COVID-19 situation in Bihar. It further stated that there was no action plan to handle the pandemic and that the Health Department officials were submitting reports that were far from the truth on the ground.
In Patna, most of the private hospitals are reportedly refusing to admit COVID-19 patients, citing lack of oxygen supply. Even if someone does manage to get beds, their relatives are being asked to arrange oxygen for them, as per reports.
On Thursday, the court had directed the state government to file a report on health infrastructure in the state showing the number of oxygenated and ICU beds and other equipment, count of doctors and paramedics available at hospitals involved in the treatment of Covid-19 patients. It also sought a response on deaths reported due to lack of oxygen.
In Patna, an oxygen cylinder is reportedly selling at Rs 30,000 to 50,000 and a Remedisivir injection at Rs 45,000 to 60,000 in the black market. This observation was also made by the Patna High Court a few days ago.
The state had 1,15,066 active COVID-19 cases as on Friday. Despite the decrease in the testing rate, the number of positive cases is growing in the past few days. More than 600 people have lost their lives due to COVID-19 in the past seven days in Bihar.