Supply oxygen allotted to Delhi or face contempt, HC warns Centre

On a day 12 Covid-19 patients died after the capital’s Batra Hospital ran out of medical oxygen, Delhi High Court told the central government that “water has gone above the head”, and threatened to begin contempt proceedings if its directions on supplying 490 metric tonnes (MT) of oxygen to Delhi was not complied with.

“Enough is enough. Now we mean business. Now you will arrange everything,” a division Bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli told the Centre during a special hearing on Saturday to monitor the Covid-19 situation in Delhi.

The Bench took note of the submission by Batra Hospital that lives had been lost on account of interruption in the oxygen supply for about an hour and a half due to the delay in supply.

It directed the Centre to ensure Delhi receives its allocated 490 MTs “positively today, by whatever means”, and ordered it to ensure availability of cryogenic tankers as well, “lest it remains only a paper allocation”.

Delhi, the court noted, is not an industrial state and does not have tankers that could be requisitioned under The Disaster Management Act as other states have done.

“…The allocation to Delhi, which was earlier of 480 MT (since April 20), and now is of 490 MT, has not been fulfilled even for a single day,” the court said.

“In case this order is not implemented, the concerned officers of the Central Government viz. Mr Piyush Goyal (Additional Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs) and Ms Sumita Dawra (Additional Secretary, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade) shall remain present during the hearing on 03.05.2021.” The court added that it was making it clear that it might even consider initiating contempt proceedings in case of non-compliance.

Around 3 pm, Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, informed the court that he had received an SOS from the authorities that the reserves of oxygen in Delhi were exhausted, and there had been “no supply or minimal supply” from suppliers Linde and Air Liquide on Saturday.

Mehra also told the court that SOSes are coming in from most hospitals, and that the situation “has gone out of hand”.

When Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma tried to persuade the court not to go ahead with the order, the court said, “You (Centre) have made an allocation. You fulfill that allocation. We are not wanting anything more.”

Sharma said he was “equally concerned about the lack of oxygen” and the allocated amount not reaching the national capital. Everyone was stretched, and was doing everything that could be done, he said.

When Sharma submitted that the Supreme Court too, was hearing a similar issue, the court told him that the apex court had not stopped the High Court, and reminded him that patients had died at Batra Hospital due to lack of oxygen.

Sharma submitted that the Solicitor General had requested the Supreme Court for time to reply on the issue of oxygen allocation.

“We can’t have people dying,” the High Court said. “Does that mean you will stop oxygen supply altogether? Does it mean we will shut our eyes to people dying in Delhi?” No one was asking for even “more than a gramme” of what had been allocated, the court said.

Sharma responded that nobody could even think on those terms, and that he was requesting with regard to the contempt part dictated by the court.

Refusing to hold the order, the court responded: “If you don’t comply, we will have to do that, and why not?”

The court said it would see the Centre’s explanation on Monday, and take up the aspect of increase in allocation on that day. “If you can’t supply, then don’t supply. You will explain that,” it said. “This is a new way of arguing the matter. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Don’t record this. We don’t appreciate it,” the court said.

The court also said it did not want the presence of any officers, because it was not serving any purpose. “We are directing that you have passed the (allocation) order, you comply with the order. That is the end of matter,” it told the Centre.

As the hearing began, Batra Hospital executive director Dr Sudhanshu Bankata told the court that the institute was left with only about an hour of oxygen. The Delhi government had tried to procure a tanker, but suppliers had said it could reach only by 4 pm or 6 pm, Dr Bankata said.

“We have 307 Covid patients and around 230 patients are on oxygen support. The tanker from Delhi government will reach in some time but ever since 6 am we have been in SOS mode because we know the tanker takes a lot of time. We are dealing with the same crisis again and again,” Dr Bankata told the court.

Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, said the state had received only 312.53 MT of oxygen on Friday.

“There is absolutely no reason why suppliers can be allowed to do this to Delhi now. Somebody needs to really pull them up because they seem to be diverting to some other state under some pressure. We can’t dip by 100 MTs. We need to increase by 200 MTs in Delhi. What is going on behind the scenes? Our tankers are not given priority. We are made to wait,” Mehra said, adding the officers of government would have a “nervous breakdown”.

Dr Bankata returned to the hearing to submit that they were losing patients, and it was “extremely difficult” to function under such limitations. Around 1.30 pm, he appeared again and said the hospital had run out of oxygen at “quarter past 12”, and government tankers had arrived at 1.25 pm from Burari.

“For one hour and 20 minutes, we were out of oxygen. It would be another five-odd minutes before the pressure goes up and the supply can restart,” Dr Bankata said.

When the court said it hoped there had been no loss of lives, he responded: “We have, sir. Including one doctor of ours. My apologies, sir, I am just submitting to the court”.

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