Amid criticism of slow distribution of foreign aid coming into the country to help out with the Covid crisis, the government on Tuesday said it had put in place a streamlined and systematic mechanism for allocation of the support supplies and other relief material received by India for effective distribution. The medical infrastructure of 38 institutions across 31 states has been strengthened through the supplies received by India, the health ministry said. The ministry also issued a statement to clarify that the government did not waste time in the effective allocation and distribution of the pandemic relief material. The support equipment includes BiPAP Machines, oxygen concentrators, oxygen cylinders, PSA oxygen plants, pulse oximeters, drugs including Favipiravir and Remdesivir, PPE kits, N-95 masks, and gowns. There are 24 different categories of items numbering nearly 4 million that have been distributed to 38 institutions in different states and are either in transit or have been received. A senior government official said the Customs had been working diligently to ensure swift clearance of the relief material. “After clearance, it is up to the ministry of home affairs and ministry of health to carry out the distribution activity. There may be a coordination issue there.” This grant in aid is being prioritised for high-burden states with a higher caseload. The government has said special focus can also be on states considered as medical hubs of the region, which have a patient in-flow from neighbouring areas. “The allocations are done keeping in mind equitable distribution and the load on tertiary health care facilities. In the first few days, the states were covered via the AIIMS and other central institutions where the critical care patients load is high and where the need is highest,” the ministry said. These goods have been given high priority for clearance by the customs systems for processing over other goods. Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) Chairman M Ajit Kumar, along with board members, on Tuesday held a meeting with chief commissioners, Customs zones and Covid-19 nodal officers to sensitise them about the requirements of IGST exemption granted to Covid-related relief goods. The central body has instructed all principal chief commissioners and other field officers that a large number of Covid-19 related consignments are anticipated to arrive in the coming days. The CBIC has assigned 24 such nodal officers across the country to expedite clearances. “The Customs formation may proactively take action for speedy clearance of such consignments.
It is requested that necessary instructions be issued to the assessing offices to clear all such Covid-19 relief material expeditiously,” said the instructions. It asked field formations to make every possible effort to work in close coordination with the state authorities. The government has reduced the IGST for the import of oxygen concentrators for personal use from 28 per cent to 12 per cent. Senior officers have been told to monitor the pendency of Covid-related imports while ensuring handholding of the trade to comply with the requirements beforehand. A cell was also created last week in the health ministry to coordinate the receipt and allocation of foreign Covid relief material as grants, aid and donations. It has among its members officials from various ministries including education, civil aviation, external affairs among others. The medical items started coming in as donations from different countries after the rise in sudden cases of Covid across the different parts of the country from the last week of April. The ministry of external affairs is the nodal agency for channelling offers of help from foreign countries. Eight hospitals in Delhi-NCR have received some of these supplies including Lady Hardinge Medical College, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Safdarjung and Ram Manohar Lohia hospitals. Three institutions in the South have been given medical supplies through this channel - AIIMS in Mangalagiri and Bibinagar and Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research Puducherry.