On April 30, Deepak Chhabra stood inside the Covid emergency ward at Meerut’s Lala Lajpat Rai Memorial Medical College, giving real-time updates of his wife Lata’s condition to his relatives. Deepak and Lata got married a couple of months ago.
Half an hour later, Deepak stood weeping outside. “Mausi, she died,” he shouted into the phone. “She said she would be by my side for life. But she left me.”
In the Surajkund crematorium’s register, in the space intended for cause of death, Deepak wrote three words beneath Lata’s name: “lack of oxygen”.
Before the tragedy, Deepak’s brother, Kamal, had told Newslaundry that staffers at the medical college gave them piecemeal amounts of oxygen in exchange for money. “I shared my oxygen with another person, both of us paid Rs 1,000 each,” he said. “There is no cure here.”
Inside the emergency area, the Covid ward was a makeshift one, with hospital beds hastily arranged in the lobby. Families of patients, most of them poorly masked, walked around nervously and tended to their relatives, as staffers confined themselves to a corner. Two, often three, patients lay on the floor, sharing one oxygen cylinder.
“[Chief minister] Yogiji has left us to die,” said Rekha Verma, 48, who brought her mother Chameli Devi to the medical college along with a makeshift bed. Devi needed oxygen but could not get it after waiting for hours. “Yogi says he wanted to remove poverty, but he is removing the poor,” said Rekha, who later gave up and decided to take her mother back home.
And yet, a cruel irony was pasted right outside the Covid emergency area. “Patients do not need to bring oxygen cylinders from outside,” read a poster at the entrance, an assurance that the hospital had enough supplies.
Akhilesh Mohan, Meerut’s chief medical officer, told Newslaundry that there was no shortage of oxygen at the hospitals in the district. “Oxygen is being delivered to all the Covid hospitals as per the demand,” he said. When asked to clarify the specific oxygen demand at the medical college, Mohan declined to comment.