04:30 GMT17 May 2021
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    There is growing resentment in India, which is battling a devastating second wave of COVID, over how hundreds of tonnes of medical supplies from foreign countries in the past few days are being allocated. Several state governments which have been facing shortages of medical oxygen and medicines say they haven't received any aid as yet.

    The United States on Tuesday said that the last two flights carrying COVID supplies to India have been delayed “at least until Wednesday because of maintenance issues”, thus putting a temporary stop to flights carrying supplies being flown in from the US since 29 April.

    So far, five flights of COVID-related medical supplies and equipment have touched down in India, and on Tuesday morning the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that the fifth plane carrying 545 oxygen concentrators had landed. The American flight carrying supplies bound for India landed on 29 April.

    ​The US delay in dispatching further aid coincides with growing domestic criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over the handling of COVID-related supplies received from abroad in the past few days.

    The federal opposition Congress Party has slammed the government over the delay in allocating “urgently needed” relief to India's worst-hit regions, pointing out that more than 40 countries had sent help to the COVID-ravaged South Asian country.

    “Forty countries have come to our aid in the past 7-10 days. The government must reveal where all the foreign aid is being used,” Congress National spokesman, Pawan Khera, said.

    He pointed out that supplies including oxygen concentrators, oxygen cylinders, generators and the drug Remdesivir, had been received by the Indian authorities over the past few days.

    The Congress is the ruling outfit or part of government in five Indian states, namely Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

    Khera's scathing attack came after a news report appeared on Indian website Scroll.in, saying that around 300 tonnes of aid that had arrived on 25 flights from other countries in the past five days had yet to reach any “domestic destination”.

    Separately, the Delhi High Court on Monday asked federal authorities to provide details of the oxygen concentrators in the possession of the Indian authorities.

    The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC), replying to the High Court’s question, said in a tweet that the oxygen concentrators had already been cleared by Indian customs.

    ​Although the MEA has reportedly said it has brought together an ‘Empowered Group of Ministers’ to assess requests for foreign aid allocation from state governments, authorities in at least six Indian states say they haven’t received any foreign assistance so far.

    These states include Delhi, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

    According to local protocols, all foreign aid goes directly to the Indian Red Cross Society which then transfers it to HLL Lifecare Limited, a federal government-backed company which stores it in a warehouse. The federal health ministry then has the task of distributing the aid from the warehouse.

    We Want Aid to be Allocated Immediately and Effectively, Says US

    Over the past week, talks have also been taking place in the US about the aid it is sending to India. At a press briefing on 29 April, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Washington would like to see its relief package being put to “effective and immediate” use, noting that HLL Lifecare Limited is handling storage and logistics.

    “Our goal is to see to it that this aid – and this is a goal, of course, that we share with the Indian Government – is put to immediate and effective use. For the details of that, I would refer you to those that are implementing this on the ground,” said Price.

    He was responding to a question whether the Joe Biden administration preferred working with the federal authorities or the local departments when it came to distributing COVID-related aid from the US.

    According to the White House, the US is delivering relief material to India which is worth more than $100 million to help New Delhi deal with the second COVID wave.

    On 27 April, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, also expressed concerns over channelling Washington’s entire COVID-related aid 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.

    He was reacting to observations from US businesses during a meeting with the US-India Business Council. Several American entrepreneurs had said that India’s insistence on routing the entire aid through Modi's office was the “biggest concern” American businesses had who wanted to help India.

    A US Embassy spokesman in Delhi has been approached for a comment on this report.

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    'Biggest Concern': US Doesn't Want to Channel COVID-Related Aid to India Through PM Modi's Office
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