It seems the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHF) maintains two different records – one for responding to Right To Information (RTI) questions and another for press releases.
Otherwise, in the matter of 13,000 unused ventilators in the height of the COVID crisis, how does one explain two different sets of data in MoHF's RTI reply and and their subsequent press release, both on the same subject?
The Quint on 21 July published an article titled "Centre Kept 13,000 Unused Ventilators During COVID Second Wave Crisis". The article was based on the RTI responses received by Nilesh G Prabhu, a businessman, from the MoHF clearly stating that the ministry had procured 59,873 ventilators by June 2020. And till 1 June 2021, 46,900 ventilators were supplied by the Centre, 42,856 ventilators to 36 States/UTs and 4044 ventilators to "Central Institutions". Which means that 13,000 ventilators were lying unused with the Central government.
Before publishing the article on 21 July, The Quint waited for five days for the MoHF's response to the facts supplied by them in the RTI reply. But we got none.
Interestingly, the MoHF was quick to issue a press release on 22 July titled Myth Vs. Facts that claimed to debunk the RTI information published in The Quint's article.
Ironically, this also meant that the ministry was rubbishing the RTI information shared by its own Central Public Information Officer (CPIO).
MoHF Blames States For Not Demanding Ventilators
Nowhere in its 22 July press release has the government denied not supplying 13,000 ventilators to the States/UTs. Instead, they have blamed the States/UTs for not demanding ventilators.
The press release says,
"The interpretation drawn in the article that the Central Government built up the inventory and did not supply 13000 ventilators is factually incorrect. Since there was no demand from the States, no supply schedule was given to the manufacturers. The manufacturers are required to assemble the ventilators based on the demand projected to them within the quantity of overall orders given to them."
Not just this.
The MoHF also stated in the release that the Centre met the States/UTs demand by supplying them '35,398 ventilators by November 2020'. An additional 996 ventilators were supplied between November 2020 and March 2021, making a total supply of 36,394 ventilators to States/UTs.
As per the press release, after March 2021, there was no demand of ventilators from the States/UTs when COVID's second wave was surging.
BUT THAT IS NOT TRUE.
Chhattisgarh Demanded 285 Ventilators In April 2021
The Quint contacted Chhattisgarh's Health Ministry to find out whether the State wrote to the Union Government for ventilators. On 12 April 2021, Renu G Pillay, the former State Health Secretary of Chhattisgarh wrote to the Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan demanding 285 ventilators for the State.
The letter reads,
"Chhattisgarh received 230 ventilators from the Government of India last year (2020)...Given the projected number of cases expected in the State by the end of April 2021, the requirement for every dedicated Covid Hospital has been assessed and our additional requirement works out to 285 ventilators."
The State demanded 285 ventilators but received ONLY 110 ventilators in May and June 2021, confirmed Chhattisgarh Health Ministry's office.
This means that MoHF did supply ventilators in May and June and the information shared in the RTI holds correct that shares information of supplies till 1 June.
But the question remains –
Why didn't MoHF supply all 285 ventilators to the Chhattisgarh government? Especially as ventilators were available with manufacturers? These additional ventilators would have saved precious lives at the height of COVID-19's lethal second wave. Wasn't that important?
Not just Chhattisgarh, on 12 April 2021, Jharkhand Health Secretary Kamal Kishore Soan, also wrote to MoHF's Additional Health Secretary Vandhana Gurnani demanding 1,500 ventilators.
The letter reads,
"It is requested to provide 1,500 additional ventilators so that the State may cater to the rise in number of COVID patients and provide them the required treatment. The State of Jharkhand shall be ever grateful to MoHFW, Government of India, for their support under such difficult times."
A media report published on 9 April said that Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had demanded 1200 ventilators from the Union Government.
On 10 April, former Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar had even said "Maharashtra will be provided 1,121 ventilators in the next few days. Of these, 700 ventilators will come from Gujarat and 421 from Andhra Pradesh".
Clearly, there were demands for ventilators from different States as COVID cases surged in April and May.
The question is –
Why is the MoHF spreading 'myth' in the name of 'facts' when there is enough documentary evidence to prove that there were demands for ventilators by States//UTs post March 2021?
MoHF Press Release and RTI Data Do Not Match
The MoHF's 22 July press release mentions that till March 2021, 36,394 ventilators were supplied to the States/UTs. And there was no supply of ventilators after March 2021 because there were no demands from States/UTs.
It also mentions that even out of these supplied ventilators, "a large number of ventilators remained un-installed in the States and even lying in their warehouses".
But again this information does not match with the RTI response received by Nilesh G Prabhu from MoHF.
As per the RTI, 42,856 ventilators were supplied to 36 States/UTs and 4044 ventilators to 'Central Institutions' till 1 June 2021.
Technically, the MoHF in its press release is claiming to have supplied less ventilators as compared to the RTI response.
There is a huge discrepancy of 6,462 ventilators (42,856 'minus' 36,394).
Now, if we have to believe MoHF's press release then the bigger question arises – where are 22,456 ventilators?
The press release reads,
Orders placed between 27th March and 17th April 2020 were for the procurement of 58,850 ventilators.
The press release also mentions till March 2021, 36,394 ventilators were supplied to the States/UTs.
Then why have the remaining 22,456 ventilators not yet been supplied?
If these ventilators are still lying with the manufacturers, why have supply orders not yet been given to the manufacturers?
With health experts saying that COVID's 3rd wave could hit India at any point, isn't increasing the number of ventilators across India's hospitals, a huge priority?
So, here is what The Quint asks the MoHF,
Why is there a discrepancy of 6,462 ventilators in the supply of ventilators to States/UTs, in the data of its RTI reply and its press release?
Which of the two versions are the true FACTS? The RTI response or the MoHF press release?
Clearly, there were demands for ventilators from different States even after March 2021, then why is MoHF not accepting this in its press release?
When will MoHF supply the additional 22,456 ventilators to States/UTs? Does MoHF really believe that states like Bihar, with chronic health infrastructure shortages, have enough ventilators?
The Quint has once again written to MoHF for their response. We hope to receive a factual response from the ministry on every question we have raised in this article and in our previous article dated 21 July.
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