Analysis: Illegal Trade in Medical Oxygen

COVID-19 or something majorly known as “the virus that shook the entire world” has brought the entire world to a standstill. We as humans have a love hate relationship with Mother Nature, the more we try to get ‘sustainable’, ‘environmental friendly’ for the betterment of the citizens, the more damage we are causing to Mother Nature. This pandemic has shown us that we are nothing but puppets in the hands of nature and the entire world revolves it. Nothing had prepared us for this but due to our negligence and faulty behavior, the entire world is now repenting and the consequences have become dire but it has made all the citizens united and working for a common cause to overcome this horrid nightmare.

In the initial stages of the lockdown, there was a huge havoc. People were panicking as to how will they manage their daily bread; overcome the stress of working from home and the fear of losing their jobs. With this fear, the trend of panic buying or hoarding started. It gave people the comfort that the longed, the fear of having few resources during these times. It started from people hoarding essential items for days, and with the commencement if the lockdown it went for weeks and when the entire world was sealed, people hoarded for months which led to a due depletion of essential items for the others. “Many of us have a perceived inability to tolerate stress,” says Smitha Reddy, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Garden City University, Bangalore. “When we see our homes filled with all the stuff we need, we feel secure. It’s not a surprise that even though the economy is crashing, our buying capacity has only increased.” Since people were bombarded with covid news all over their WhatsApp, social media and news, their minds automatically thought of the same thing “what will happen when we run out of material” hence, people stocked up for days leaving nil for others. Social media plays a huge role when it comes to clouding one’s mind; the more drastic the news is the more impact it creates on the people. We are caught in a vicious cycle and it has become more dangerous that what we as a world are going through together.

But as the situation is deteriorating by the day, it’s not just the essential items that are in demand, oxygen cylinders, medicines and vaccines are the new essential items for people. Suppliers have taken an undue advantage of marketing illegal medical oxygen.

 Amidst media outcry about the illegal trade of medical oxygen, the Rapid Action Battalion and the Directorate General of Drug Administration on Tuesday raided businesses and clinics selling industrial oxygen in the name of medical oxygen or selling oxygen at much higher prices. Medical oxygen has become the lifesaver for covid patients with low oxygen levels. It is an essential part of treating people and when medical suppliers and hospitals sell oxygen cylinders 10 times higher the price, how is it possible for a middle class man to afford one cylinder along with the hospital bill. Many hospitals have hoarded oxygen cylinders just to keep up with the increasing demand; this has caused an increase in the illegal trading of oxygen cylinders amongst people. When the entire nation is in distress, people are selling adulterated oxygen 10 times the actual price just for their benefit not realizing the damage they are causing for the families that are in urgent need. It is very sad to read that daily people are dying due to the shortage of oxygen cylinders due to illegal hoarding by people. India has seen an alarming amount of cases in the past few months which have caused a nationwide concern amongst people as there is a drastic depletion in cylinders. It is very disheartening to see that doctors are risking their own lives to save people every day on one hand and illegal hoarding kills people due to lack of supply of oxygen cylinders.  Sources from medical fraternity said that nearly 50 to 55 per cent of corona patients, admitted in private and government hospitals, die every day for want of oxygen out of total deaths reported in the state.

Illegal trading of cylinders is not something new we hear and read every day; many families have been suffering due to the high pricing which in result has caused them to sell off their assets in order to afford a single cylinder. According to various sources, at least 10-15 medical suppliers get caught on a daily basis selling illegal cylinders, medicines at a higher price in the black market. The black market has been there since ages but due to covid, there has been a tremendous increase in sale of medical supplies. The prices fluctuate like the weather in these markets but as the demand is increasing, people who cannot arrange for cylinders, the one thing that is saving the people from dying; have no option but to buy a cylinder 10 times higher than the market from these illegal sellers without any knowledge.

It is very sad to see people gaining profit from ones misery, a loved one will go to any extent to save their family even if that means to pay Rs. 3/4 lakhs for one oxygen cylinder. The government is trying very hard to find illegal hoarders everyday but according to me, such people should pay for the damages they cause whether they are intentional or unintentional. The laws should be made very strict and proper paper work should be done before supplying oxygen to anyone be it hospitals or certified sellers. Top priority should be given to emergency cases and the prices should be kept at a minimal rate so that people can afford them. 

Illegal traders should be imprisoned for at least a year with a fine that will amount to the same price at which they were selling their illegal stuff. This is a cause for concern as it amounts to people gaining illegal commission through ones misery. Proper justice should be given to the grieving families. It is not fair for them if these law breakers are not punished accordingly. I believe that punishment should be given even if people are illegally hoarding or mixing adulterants into lifesaving medicines. Doctors would never prescribe the wrong medicine, but these adulterated medicines are a cause for concern. 

As a country that is in distress, it is a very proud moment for us that many NGOs, organizations and companies have come together to supply oxygen, medicines and food for people suffering from this monstrous disease. Many people have come forward with volunteering to help people search for beds, oxygen cylinders, providing them with plasma. Funds are being collected for a good cause and it has been observed that in the past few weeks, the cases have had a decline because people are finally getting the proper treatment through the heroes that came forward to help in these dark times. Not all heroes wear capes and we should pay back the people who have been working tirelessly since day 1 and won’t stop until they see the change themselves and this is indeed is a small ray of hope for things to become normal as soon as possible. Social media has become the need of the hour and it has helped thousands of people, it is quite true when people say that social media does have an upper hand and has its pros and cons but people are finally putting it to a good use.

There is always a rainbow after a bad rain and we can all pray and hope and try our level best to help people even if it calling hospitals or finding them a good bed. Let us normalize lending our helping hands to people. 

Author: Nandini Sharma from Army Law College, Pune.

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