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Govt finds it tough to distribute Covid relief material

Our Bureau. New Delhi | Updated on May 05, 2021

Clearance process causing confusion but efforts are on to smoothen things out

The Centre is facing initial problems in ensuring that the relief material pouring in from various countries reaches the needy on time, but systems are being put in place to ensure better distribution.

“While taking a decision on distributing the relief material that is coming in, whether it is oxygen equipment, ventilators or critical medicines, the government is going by what it feels is the immediate requirement and high-burden States are being identified. One has to understand that there will be several rounds of relief distribution and also that what has been received is not so large that it can go everywhere,” said a government source.

Faster clearance

The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs is doing its part for faster clearance of imported relief material, and has provided detailed procedure to be followed up by importers, an official pointed out. For expeditious custom clearance of imports through courier, the CBIC has instructed that it is to be ensured that the invoice and KYC documents are made available to the authorised courier in advance. Also, the address on KYC document should be same as the consignee address. The CBIC also said that that Indian Customs is working 24x7 to fast track the clearance of the goods on arrival, which is leading to expeditious clearance within hours.

But the job is not easy. When asked if British companies are finding it difficult to reach relief material to India, Richard Heald OBE, Group Chair, UK India Business Council, said: “We are aware that certain companies are finding the process confusing. That is one of the areas where my colleagues at Delhi are closely working with the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade. The DPIIT has put in place a nodal unit which is trying to move through customs and ports etc as quickly as possible.”

“We are dealing with smaller companies who are not as experienced with India,” he said, adding: “Even if they are NRIs. They are committed, they have the relevant stuff that India is looking for, but they may not know who to call, what website to go to, how to expedite. And that is one of the things that we at UKIBC are trying to help with.”

In fact domestic companies are also facing challenges. An Indian online travel company, which had ordered oxygen concentration, said logistics issues relating to finding reliable supplier and having the products picked up from international locations is turning out to be an issue. “It is taking at least 48 hours to unload at customs. Our concentrators are still stuck at the airport,” said the founder of the travel company on conditions of anonimity.

Meanwhile, the local governments are also doing their bit. For example, the Karnataka government has constituted a State executive committee, headed by a senior IAS officer, Dr S Sevakumar, Secretary to Chief Minister. According to the office of the Chief Commissioner of Customs, Bengaluru Zone, consignments of medical goods, ventilators, oxygen concentrators, respiratory devices needed in the treatment of Covid-19 patients were received between April 26 and 30.

By creating an internal green corridor, the Customs unit located at the Bengaluru International Airport, Devanahalli, has been clearing all life-saving goods/items on priority the same day. On April 28, the Customs gave priority and cleared 74 ventilators and 218 respiratory devices sent by Czech Republic, Ireland, and the US, while on April 26, it cleared 99 ventilators and five humidifiers from Sweden and Singapore by creating an internal green corridor.

In Delhi, which is one of the highly-needy States, oxygen-generating machines have been supplied to a number of hospitals, including Lady Hardinge and Safdarjung, the source said. Supplies have also been made to Dharmashila Narayan hospital, ITBP Hospital, Greater Noida, Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital, Ambedkar Hospital, and Telengana Institute of Medical Sciences, among others. Most AIIMS hospitals across the country have also been sent supplies, according to sources.

‘Accord highest priority’

According to the Traffic Manager at the Cochin Port Trust, the Ministry of Shipping has directed all Major Port Trusts to waive all charges and accord highest priority in the berthing sequence to vessels carrying consignments of medical grade oxygen, oxygen tanks, oxygen bottles, oxygen concentrators, steel pipes for manufacturing oxygen cylinders, and associated equipment for the next three months. In case the vessel is carrying other cargo/containers in addition to the above, waiver of charges on pro-rata basis shall be provided for oxygen-related cargo to such vessels.

But there are other problems. For instance, of the 4.5 lakh vials of Remdesivir that Gilead offered, about 1.25 lakh vials have been imported while another 1.5 lakh vials are on the way. However, the medicine in its liquid form is difficult to handle and must be stored in cold place in the hinterland and the powedered medicine was easily distributed. “Now, the liquid medicine is also being distributed and will reach more people,” the source said.

“The State government has not received any material from the Centre as of now. But we heard that a few of Central institutes have received some medical and healthcare equipment from the Central pool,” said a source in the Telangana government.

“The Indian government lets the donor governments know what is happening with the stuff that is sent by them. So, the fears that some may have on misuse are unfounded,” the source said.

(Inputs from Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Kochi)

Published on May 05, 2021

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