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The report, that TNM has accessed a copy of, says that between 10.30 pm on May 2 till about 2.30 am on May 3, there was absolutely no oxygen at the hospital.

A healthcare worker in a PPE kit administering oxygen to a patientImage for representation | PTI
news Investigation Friday, July 30, 2021 - 18:41

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“When my sister was taken to the hospital, her oxygen saturation was 70. But for 3 hours, they did not provide her with oxygen. Her oxygen saturation came down to under 50,” Sandesh told TNM. His sister, 33-year-old Chikkamma died in Chamarajanagar District Hospital on 2 May, 2021 due to an oxygen shortage. “But the hospital did not once tell us that there was no oxygen in the hospital. They had just put the mask on her like she was being given oxygen,” he added.

On July 20, the Union Minister of state for Health, Bharati Pawar told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply that “no deaths due to lack of oxygen have been specifically reported by states/UTs”. This in response to a question on whether a large number of COVID-19 patients died on roads and hospitals due to acute shortage of oxygen during the second wave. Sandesh says such statements that don't even acknowledge the cause of death of their loved ones makes them feel nobody cares for the poor. Chikamma was not the only to die that day at the Chamarajanagar District Hospital, 35 others too lost their lives, many due to lack of oxygen.

The Karnataka government ruled by the BJP was put in a spot when the Union Government placed the blame squarely on the states for not reporting the number of oxygen deaths. When asked, Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister Ashwatha Narayan said “It was not because of the shortage of oxygen. Inquiry is going on to see whether it was because of shortage of oxygen or negligence”. He further defended saying, “We never had any kind of shortage in Karnataka. With regard to the logistical issues and negligence of that institution, it cannot be reflected as oxygen shortage. The state of Karnataka with the support of the GOI, we were able to manage the oxygen supply”. 

This statement however is not true if one was to go by a report submitted by a three-member committee headed by retired HC judge Justice AN Venugopala Gowda constituted by the Karnataka High Court. The report, that TNM has accessed a copy of, says that between 10.30 pm on 02-05-2021 till about 2.30 am on 03-05-2021, there was absolutely no oxygen available at District 15 hospital, Chamarajnagar. 

Report of the Committee submitted to Karnataka HC

The report submitted on May 11 noted that a Death Audit Report, by the District Surgeon and four others concluded that the death of 3 persons was on account of lack of oxygen, death of 7 persons was on account of Hypoxic Brain Injury and the deaths of 13 other people were not audited. “Hypoxic brain injury” indicates that the brain cells which are extremely sensitive, on account of oxygen deprivation, die within a short time of about 5 minutes after oxygen supply gets cut off,” the report notes. 

The High Court Committee after its investigation however concluded that all 24 deaths “which occurred on 2nd and 3rd of May in the hospital are attributable to the lack of oxygen at the hospital”. 

Report of the Committee submitted to Karnataka HC

“On account of non-availability of oxygen, many of the patients died during this period and vital parts of many other patients were badly damaged which has led to their death thereafter. The number of persons who died in the hospital between 11.00 pm on 02-05-2021 and till the evening of 03-05-2021 was 37.”

TNM tried contacting the Deputy Commissioner of Chamarajanagar Dr. MR Ravi several times but received no answer. While unconfirmed reports of Dr Ravi’s transfer were doing the rounds after the committee submitted its report to the HC, he continues in his position with no action taken against him till date. This, despite the report stating that “In the meeting held by DC, Chamarajanagar on 2-5-2021, there is not even a whisper about the shortage of oxygen stock at the hospital”. (pg 24)

MLA N Mahesh, speaking to TNM said he doesn't know if the state government submitted the Committee report to the Union government. He added, “the report says there were deaths due to oxygen and that cannot be hidden”. Mahesh who has lent his support to the BJP government in the state in the Assembly was to be inducted into the party last week. When questioned on the response of the Union Government, he says, “maybe their (Union Government)’s interpretation was that these were deaths due to a problem in the supply of oxygen, not a lack of oxygen”.

When TNM insisted if the deaths occurred were due to shortage of oxygen, he conceded. 

One of his constituents, Channamma**, speaking to TNM, corroborated the committee's findings. She lost her husband on that tragic night and she says her brother-in-law was told by the doctors that the hospital had run out of oxygen and till further arrangements were made, patients whose oxygen saturation was critically low, are in grave danger. And in less than an hour from then, he breathed his last.

The union government has been banking on technicality that states have not reported deaths due to lack of oxygen, however some states say that the union government never asked for this data. Channamma reacted angrily to the news of the Union government denying that there were deaths due to oxygen shortage. “Between the state and union governments, they play games that are beyond our understanding. But we are the ones who lose our lives. My husband could have been saved. Now my two children lost their father and the politicians will just act like nothing happened”. 

**Name changed on request

Read: No oxygen deaths in India? AP hospital’s complaint shows Union govt’s claim is hollow

This story is a part of the TNM COVID-19 reporting project. To support this project, make a payment here

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