India’s Oxygen Shortage Is Pushing Patients to Sleep Under Sacred Trees

Turned away from a hospital, the patients thought sleeping under the trees would increase their oxygen levels.
Shamani Joshi
Mumbai, IN
A sacred fig tree. For illustrative purposes only. Photo: Kridsada Krongmuang/Shutterstock

A lack of medical oxygen supplies in India has forced some patients to seek alternative treatments – such as sleeping under peepal trees.

Also known as sacred fig, peepal trees are thought to have special healing properties, although the widely-held belief that they release oxygen at night is not substantiated.

Earlier this week, local authorities in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh found nine people sleeping under those trees, believing that it would give them more oxygen. Authorities said one of them was a COVID-19 patient who was denied a hospital bed.


The unorthodox treatment came to light as the country continues to battle a severe COVID-19 crisis that is taking one life every three minutes. Patients across the country have reported struggling to find supplementary oxygen for treatment.

On Tuesday, a court in India expressed frustration at hospitals’ reported failure to supply oxygen, calling it a “criminal” act.

According to local authorities in the Shahjahanpur area of Uttar Pradesh, the group of nine people decided to camp out under a peepal tree after they were denied admission in a nearby hospital.

“We were sitting under the tree as it releases a huge amount of oxygen. The other patients who were sitting with us had low oxygen levels,” Ravindra Maurya told the Press Trust of India

Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has denied that there is an oxygen shortage in the state. He has threatened to arrest people for “spreading rumours” of a shortage. Last week, police charged a man for spreading “misleading information” after he asked for oxygen on Twitter.

Roshan Lal Verma, a local politician who first spotted the group of sleepers, told Press Trust of India that they had been staying there for at least six days before they were noticed. 

Last week, in a separate incident that took place in the city of Prayagraj, local police reportedly told families desperately searching for hospital beds to go and sit under a peepal tree to increase their oxygen levels. 

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