The delivery of two oxygen cylinders to the New Zealand High Commission in India by members of the Indian Youth Congress Covid-19 response team was done to "save a life", its President says.
Indian Youth Congress (IYC) is the frontal youth wing of the Indian National Congress Party, the main opposition party in India. It’s formed a 1,000-strong humanitarian operation to deliver a response to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis in India.
It comes after the New Zealand High Commission tweeted a desperate plea for oxygen yesterday but then deleted the tweet and later apologised for it.
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson told 1 NEWS in a statement: "The tweet was issued in error on the New Zealand High Commission’s Twitter account. It has since been withdrawn and we have apologised, including to the Indian government, for the misunderstanding it may have caused.
"We have nothing further to add except to say that the safety, health and welfare of our staff in India and across the global network is a priority."
Speaking to 1 NEWS, President of the organisation, Srinivas BV, said he was aware of criticism coming from India’s Foreign Ministry accusing them of “hoarding” oxygen.
He denies this is the case and says states from around India are sending oxygen cylinders which are given to those in need for 10 days, before being collected and then used again for others who require it.
“It was all about saving a life, nothing else. We don’t care about the politics,” he said.
Srinivas explained that at about 9am Indian time yesterday, IYC received a direct message (DM) on Twitter from the New Zealand High Commission. He said about 15 minutes later the Commission tweeted the message on its page.
“Immediately what we did is we alerted our relief team and reached out to the New Zealand Embassy immediately,” Srinivas said.
But the tweet was later deleted and the High Commission apologised for posting it.
"We are trying all sources to arrange for oxygen cylinders urgently and our appeal has unfortunately been misinterpreted, for which we are sorry," the NZ High Commission tweeted later.
Asked why he thought the Commission later deleted its tweet, Srinivas said he understood if there was pressure from the Indian Government.
"They made a public request then deleted the tweet. We can understand why they did, there might be pressure from the Foreign Ministry but we don’t care about politics."
He said if the Chief of Protocol and Heads of Divisions are in continuous touch with all High Commissions and Embassies in India then there would have been no need to issue a request over social media.
"Why was the request raised if there is continuous contact from the Foreign Ministry?" Srinivas said.
"This is how diplomacy works. Right now the situation is critical – it’s all about saving a life. If one single effort can save a life, we will make every effort," he said.
"I could have made a political statement but we are not going into muddy politics."
He said the IYC response team were able to talk to a guard at the embassy and checked with a senior official before delivering two cylinders of oxygen.
“Everyone is reaching out to us requesting for help, so every day we receive about 10,000 oxygen cylinder requests, Covid-19 test requests and life-saving medicine requests,” Srinivas said, explaining the desperate situation.
He said he didn’t know anything about the person inside the embassy or what was wrong with them.
“All these embassies are guests in India, we are trying to help everyone, it’s not about politics, you know.
“In India, every guest is our own family member, if they need any kind of help, it’s our responsibility to help them out,” Srinivas said.
He disputed accusations of hoarding oxygen, saying the country was “coming together” to help anyone who needed it.
“I don’t think saving a life is called hoarding, we don’t look at it this way.
“Every day we get 3,000 requests in Delhi alone and we can only deliver 40-50. We can’t even fulfil the demand,” he said.
“A few days earlier we delivered oxygen cylinders to Philippines Embassy.
“We are not discriminating them on the basis of their citizenship. We leave that to the critics - how they want to interpret this.
“When you have around 400,000 cases every day we are not prepared for this. We are working together with the Government to help people and saving every human on our land right now,” he said.
Srinivas said the organisation doesn’t charge people for oxygen cylinders which he says are being obtained from vendors across states.
“We are not charging anyone for the oxygen. We take the cylinders back after 10 days when the patient is recovered. The protocol is that the patient needs treating for 10-14 days. Then we take the cylinder back.”
Today India recorded a drop in new infections with 392,488 from a high of 401,993 in the previous 24 hours, the Associated Press reports.
It also reported 3,689 additional deaths, bringing the total to 215,542. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.