Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal has rejected a proposal by the Arvind Kejriwal government to set up a committee to establish the number of people who died during the second Covid wave due to a lack of oxygen, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said on Friday.
Sources close to Mr Baijal's office, however, denied opposing any probe into the matter.
This is the second time Mr Baijal has dismissed a proposal of this nature; in June he refused the Delhi government permission to investigate nearly 40 deaths reported from two city hospitals.
"We sent the file to LG sahib...but he has again refused permission for an inquiry into deaths because of a lack of oxygen," Mr Sisodia said Friday evening, adding that the Lieutenant Governor had said "there is no need to form any committee".
"The centre is saying states should report how many deaths occurred due to lack of oxygen...but the LG is not allowing an investigation. How will we be able to say how many died..." he said.
"This means the centre wants states to give it in writing that there were no deaths due to lack of oxygen. But to say this will be a big lie to those who have lost their loved ones."
Mr Sisodia also accused the centre of "mismanaging (Delhi's) oxygen crisis" in April-May, when the devastating second wave of the pandemic struck the capital, leaving hospitals scrambling for supplies and forcing relatives to scour the city for even the smallest oxygen cylinder.
The statements were, however, dubbed "misleading" by sources close to the Lieutenant Governor's office. Neither Mr Baijal nor the centre have opposed a probe into the 'oxygen deaths', they said.
"What has been said earlier, on 6.7.2021, and repeated again on 19.8.2021, is that a high-level committee constituted as per Supreme Court directions where, apart from senior and reputed doctors, the Additional Chief Secretary (Health)...is also a member, is already looking into the matter. It has submitted its interim report and is working on the final report," sources said.
"The Lieutenant Governor, as well as the Health Minister, Government of India, have reiterated that the said committee should be allowed to do its work. Setting up of another committee for the same purpose will only create confusion," they said, adding that state administration had been advised to follow court directions in the matter.
A massive row broke out last month after junior Health Minister Bharati Praveen Pawar told the Rajya Sabha "no deaths due to lack of oxygen were reported" during the second COVID-19 wave.
The centre's statement triggered furious protests from the opposition, which pointed to the many social media appeals and court cases filed by hospitals, particularly in Delhi, asking for oxygen.
The centre then asked states and union territories to collect and submit this data, which was to have been presented during the recently concluded monsoon session of Parliament; a session that was shut down two days early because of a fierce stand-off between the opposition and the centre.
Last week Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya told the Delhi government "it is not too late" to submit the data; Mr Mandaviya took a swipe at Mr Sisodia's comment from days earlier, when he said the Delhi government had received no such request from the centre.
Andhra Pradesh is one of only two states, so far, to report oxygen supply-related deaths; the other is Punjab, which said four deaths were "suspected" to be due to a lack of oxygen.
The surge in severe symptomatic cases during the second COVID-19 wave earlier this year - cases requiring hospitalisation and oxygen - put immense pressure on an already creaking health infrastructure, and hospitals ran short of critical medical supplies, including oxygen.
The shortfall was severe enough to force the government to import oxygen, rush to set up new oxygen production plants and turn to other countries for help in setting up emergency facilities.
Throughout the crisis the government insisted the shortfall was a transport problem and not a supply issue; the challenge, it claimed, was moving oxygen from where it was produced to needed.