Covid relief foreign aid resources: What is the holdup?
As India battles with the brutal second wave, countries across the world have helped by sending foreign aid. The fight against the acute nationwide oxygen shortage is supported by humanitarian assistance from other countries as oxygen cylinders, concentrators, distribution equipment such as cryogenic tankers, industrial and personal oxygen cylinders and concentrators. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare clarified that aid had been received in 24 different categories and over 40 lakh units.
A special Covid Air Support Management Cell (CASMC), is being operated by the Indian Air Force since April 27 to build a seamless flow of information and reduce time delays in the distribution of aid coming from foreign countries.
- 9,284 Oxygen Concentrators
- 11835 Oxygen Cylinders
- 19 Oxygen Generation Plants
- 6439 ventilators/Bi-PAP
- ~4.22L Remdesivir vials
delivered/dispatched through road and air from 27th April 2021 to 12th May 2021.
The distribution problem
Once received at the ports, the aid information is sent to the Union Health Ministry. It is then distributed categorically, like the government to government, private to government and private to states. However, there are numerous roadblocks to the flow. Even after reaching India, loads of consignments of oxygen and oxygen concentrators lie at the airport because of logistical and distribution issues.
One time-consuming issue is unpacking and packing products due to specific requirements and distribution protocols. Earlier, IGST on imports was a blocker too. However, that got cleared since the tax on imports for corona aid has been relieved by the government.
What about foreign donations?
In addition to the medical supplies from other countries, we also receive financial aid. While some donations have come from governments and corporations; monetary aid from foreign charities is also pouring in, but there’s a lag in delivery there too.
NGOs and non-profits funded by international charities were a major source of relief during the first wave of Covid-19. However, these organizations face clearance issues after the government announced an amendment in the “Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.”
To receive foreign aid, the charities must get affidavits, notary stamps and open bank accounts with SBI. These regulations during the time of COVID have delayed help.
One such case is that of the American India Foundation- a US non-profit that raised $23 million for Covid-19 relief and wired $3 million to its counterpart in India to build 2500 hospital beds on May 5.
A week later, the transaction had still not cleared. According to the CEO of the foundation, Nishant Pandey, the holdup can be attributed to the new requirement of channeling aid through a single bank, which makes the process slow during such overwhelming times.
According to the letter sent to the government by 13 NGOs, these regulations have increased the time required for compliance leading to the wastage of scarce time, bandwidth and human resources from helping out with the pandemic.
In times like these, policy-making that increases transparency plays a crucial role in ensuring quick and equitable distribution of resources.
RTIs filed on donations received and used under the PM CARES, from foreign and local sources, have been practically unanswered saying the information cannot be disclosed. The legal time to respond to the RTI is 48 hours.