06:14 GMT06 May 2021
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    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has taken a critical view of Indian states directly approaching private companies for their COVID-related requirements. On Monday, India’s Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Delhi High Court that states have to route their requests for medical oxygen to private companies through federal authorities.

    US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed concerns over channelling Washington’s entire COVID-related supplies to India through the office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying such an approach could affect the delivery of relief material to states as aid could get held up in New Delhi.

    ​New Delhi, on the other hand, wants the entire incoming foreign aid to be routed through the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), even as Washington wants to involve “institutions” based in Indian states.

    The differences in approach of routing critical COVID-related supplies from the US to India were discussed during a virtual call between Blinken and the US-India Business Council (USIBC), which describes itself as a “business advocacy group” working towards strengthening bilateral trade ties.

    Details of the conversation between Blinken and industry leaders have been shared by Indian-American businessman Naveen Advani, who attended the call with the US secretary of state along with more than 130 other American businessmen.

    Advani said that the Indian PMO’s insistence on routing the entire aid through New Delhi was the Joe Biden administration’s “biggest concern” with helping the country.

    ​During the call, Blinken welcomed the participation of US industry in helping India in battling its COVID surge, which has been accompanied by a crippling shortage of oxygen, life-saving drugs, and other medical equipment for the treatment of COVID patients.

    "Secretary of State Antony J Blinken met virtually with leaders of American business, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the US-India Business Council today to discuss how the United States and India can leverage the expertise and capabilities of the US private sector to support urgent COVID-19 relief efforts in India", State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

    ​The virtual meeting between Blinken and business leaders was held hours after a phone conversation between Prime Minister Modi and US President Biden.

    “The President pledged America’s steadfast support for the people of India who have been impacted by the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. In response, the United States is providing a range of emergency assistance, including oxygen-related supplies, vaccine materials, and therapeutics”, said the readout of the call released by the White House.

    After the Modi-Biden call, the US also decided to deploy an “expert team” of public health advisers from the CDC in India to help local authorities battle the surge in infections, according to Ned Price.

    Prime Minister Modi raised the issue of American companies’ initial reluctance to release crucial raw materials to Indian vaccine manufacturers.

    “Prime Minister Modi underscored the need to ensure smooth and open supply chains of raw materials and inputs required for manufacture of vaccines, medicines, and therapeutics related to COVID-19”, said the readout by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

    The US refusal to release the raw materials required to manufacture COVID vaccines in India mothballed into a major controversy in the South Asian country, as it's battling a devastating second COVID wave.

    The Biden administration justified the withholding of vaccine-related raw materials under the US Defence Production Act, a 1950s-era legislation that prioritises supplies to domestic companies over foreign enterprises.

    It was only on Sunday after a phone conversation between US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval that the US decided to allow the export of these raw materials.

    The South Asian country has recorded more than 300,000 new infections for the sixth straight day, taking the overall caseload to just under 18 million. 

    Related:

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    Tags:
    Narendra Modi, COVID-19, Antony Blinken, Joe Biden, India
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