The Delhi High Court, in its hearing over a public interest litigation seeking the court to monitor the management of the COVID-19 crisis in Delhi, on Monday, 26 April, instructed the Centre and Delhi government that it is both their jobs to manage the acute shortage of medical oxygen in the national capital.
A division bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli heard the matter.
INOX, which supplies oxygen to most Delhi hospitals, said that “Delhi allocation is going down and UP and Rajasthan are going up [sic]. All transport tanks are going there. I don't have excess supply chain.”
The chief of the company, Siddharth Jain, added that from 105 metric tonnes, its allocation to Delhi has further been reduced to 80 metric tonnes.
"The central government asked us to supply 80 MT and GNCTD is asking us to supply 125 MT."
Further, the Delhi High Court on Monday told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, "You don't seem to be taking into account the established supply chains. They were supplying to Delhi... Why should their tankers be held up in spite of your order?"
Mehta, in return, told the Delhi government counsel that "You intimate us. Criminal complaint can be registered. The Home Minister has issued an order that says treat oxygen tankers like ambulances."
To this, the court replied, "We fail to understand. We asked you to consider reworking allocation. All that was not done. 21 lives have been lost."
However, Mehta argued that it was "not because of non-supply by me" and "it is not my job."
The HC said, "It is both your jobs. You can't say it's not my job."
Intervention in Supply of Oxygen Would Endanger Hundreds of Human Lives
While appealing to other states to not restrict the supply of oxygen to Delhi, the Delhi High Court categorically stated that such intervention in the supply of oxygen would amount to endangering hundreds of human lives.
“We hope and expect Rajasthan to honour the order passed by Centre and this Court. Intervention in the matter of supply of oxygen would tantamount to endangering hundreds of human lives. Serves no purpose to anyone to obstruct.”Delhi High Court
The court also directed the Centre to take steps to prioritise the clearance of customs for the import of RT-PCR testing kits from abroad.
When the court called for a report on the number of imports which are held up, SG Tushar Mehta objected to the same. He said:
“I’ve nothing to hide...monitoring is something that is being looked into...it becomes an open forum. Everybody starts discussing...We have an issue in it becoming part of court record...”
In light of this submission, the court asked the central government to submit the said information in a sealed cover.
Disruption in Supply Chain
Earlier during the hearing, Senior Advocate Sachin Dutta appearing for Jaipur Golden Hospital claimed that the oxygen supply chain was being disrupted by the Delhi government.
“Enormous SOS calls were made. They arranged something from AIIMS, but it was (some minutes) late. There is shortage and uncertainty. Delhi government doesn’t understand the supply chain...how long after a patient dies should hospitals issue SOS?”Sachin Dutta
Siddharth Jain, Director, Inox, also brought to the court's notice the difficulties being faced by suppliers. He said:
“My factories are working 24x7. When my truck leaves, it is working like a milkman (dropping off small quantities at several hospitals). Our trucks are diverted midway.. Why would I not want to give oxygen? It is my business. Nobody has complained except for Delhi hospitals. I wonder why!”
Considering the issues being faced by stakeholders, the court ultimately directed that the Chief Secretary, Delhi, hold a meeting with hospitals, suppliers, re-fillers in order to work out the modalities on the supply of oxygen.
The court went on to state that it was the responsibility of both governments to ensure that oxygen reaches Delhi.
“We fail to understand. We asked you to consider re-working allocation...all that was not done. 21 lives have been lost,” the court said.
In view of the instances of black marketing of oxygen cylinders, the court directed that all re-fillers in the city be present before it on Tuesday.