Amid the second wave of the pandemic sweeping across the country, an oxygen concentrator that normally costs about Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 is now being sold for a whopping Rs 1.5 lakh.
It is a device that sucks oxygen from the atmosphere and delivers it to a person suffering from respiratory illness. It is a life-saving instrument meant for home use by those Covid-19 patients whose oxygen saturation dips below 80 mm Hg.
While the demand for oxygen concentrators has gone through the roof, oximeters, that indicate the level of oxygen in an individual’s body, are out of stock in most medical stores. Those who have stock, are selling it at a price between Rs 1,800 to Rs 3,000 which is about three to four times the MRP of the device.
With Covid-19 infections rising day by day all across the country, illegal hoarding, black marketing and overcharging of essential medical devices have become the new norm.
Oxygen cylinders are also being sold at exorbitant prices as beds in hospitals are full. A new cylinder that contains about 6.8 kg gas normally costs Rs 8,000 but now it’s priced above Rs 30,000.
Sadly, both state governments and the Centre have failed to put in place any mechanism to ensure these medical equipment are made available to those who need it the most.
Many shop owners in Delhi, who sell these equipment say that they ran out of stock within days of the second wave of the pandemic gripping the national capital.
However, black-marketeers have taken to social messaging applications like WhatsApp to contact helpless relatives of Covid-19 patients and demand an exorbitant price for these equipment.
Many retailers allege that whole sellers have hoarded the essential medical devices to create an artificial shortage in the market. Now when the demand has gone up, they are selling it through unauthorized agents at a hefty price to make some quick money.
Outlook contacted one such agent who said that he would charge Rs 1.5 lakh for an oxygen concentrator whose MRP is Rs 65,000.
“I will give you a bill of Rs 65,000 plus GST,” he said, identifying himself as Saurav Batra from Batra Associates in Vasant Kunj, Delhi.
The Delhi government has, of late, started a control room and advertised a phone number to help people get their oxygen cylinders filled but the move seems to be an eyewash.
“We can give you an address where you can go and get your cylinder filled. That’s it. But if you reach the filling station after their stock is over, we can’t help,” one of the call attendants said on the helpline number when this correspondent called to cross-check the government’s services. Also, the filling station that he suggested was almost 30 km away from the patient’s address told to the call attendant.
Experts say that looking at the prevailing scenario in Delhi and other cities of India, to stop black marketing of oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, and oximeter, it is essential to invoke the provisions of Essential Commodities Act, 1955 and The Prevention of Balackmarketing & Maintenance of Supplies Act, 1980 in letter and spirit.
“The law enforcement agencies should enforce, confiscate, raid, detain and arrest people involved in black marketing. The common man must have 24X7 access to helpline numbers and numbers of concerned officials to report such black-marketing activities,” Nishant Kr. Srivastava, Founder & Managing Partner, Actus Legal, said.
He added, “Further, as the Delhi High Court recently directed the Delhi government, it must take over oxygen refiller stations because the ones running them now are not being able to supply the gas to hospitals and they are allegedly selling it in the black market. The most effective measure would be to set up an effective complaint and response mechanism.”
Sanjay Bhutani, Director, Medical Technology Association of India, an association of research-based medical technology companies, says that for pulse oximeters and oxygen concentrators, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) had directed all manufacturers/importers to submit MRP details under Para 29 of the DPCO, 2013 and it is monitoring its prices.
“We have full confidence in our regulators and law enforcement agencies to monitor the situation and catch these hoarders and black marketers, which will help discourage others from doing the same. We also encourage the public to stop any unnecessary hoarding (buy only if required) and bring any such malpractice that they may observe to the notice of the NPPA immediately,” Dr Bhutani, who is also Managing Director India & SAARC, Bausch & Lomb, India said.