Indian Punjab's Chief Minister Amarinder Singh disclosed that the Modi-led government at the Centre rejected the province's request to import liquid medical oxygen (LMO) from neighbouring Pakistan as the country faces a dire shortage amid record coronavirus cases and deaths, it emerged on Monday.
Singh had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah last week, asking them to "immediately allocate" an additional 50 metric tonnes of oxygen as well as 20 tankers to transport oxygen from Bokaro to the province.
In a press release issued last week, the Punjab government said that despite the increasing caseload, the Punjab chief minister could not increase the number of level two and level three beds because of constraints hampering oxygen availability.
The province was not getting its allocated quota of oxygen, the release said.
"[Singh] pointed out that the Government of India had expressed its inability to even allow Punjab's local industry to undertake commercial import of LMO from Pakistan through the Wagah-Attari border, which is geographically proximate," it said.
"Despite assurance that adequate supply would be ensured to us from alternate sources, I regret to point out that this has not happened," the release quoted Singh as saying.
Indian publication The Wire said that the Ministry of External Affairs did not comment on the Punjab government's claim that its request for importing oxygen from Pakistan was denied.
Punjab state leaders had been pushing for an "oxygen corridor" from Pakistan as the graph of new Covid-19 cases rose from early April, the publication added.
Last week, chief of the Congress party in Punjab, Sunil Jakhar, had told The Indian Express that the "Centre was coming in the way" of importing oxygen from Pakistan.
He had said that the province would pay for the oxygen on its own if it was allowed to import it, terming it an "[emergency] need to save the people of the state".
Amritsar member of parliament Gurjeet Singh Aujla had also written to Modi asking for establishing an oxygen corridor with Pakistan. He pointed out that "oxygen was being supplied in tankers from Panipat, around 350 kilometres from Amritsar, while the Pakistani city of Lahore was just 50 km away", The Wire reported.
Last month, Pakistan offered medical supplies to India, including ventilators, Bi PAP, digital X-ray machines, personal protective equipment and other related items.
The Foreign Office (FO) had asked the Indian authorities to coordinate so that modalities could be worked out for quick delivery of the relief items. India has not responded to the offer, according to The Wire.
Over the last 24 hours, India reported 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths — off a little from recent peaks — taking India's tally to 22.6 million with 246,116 deaths.