‘Beg, Borrow, Steal, But Ensure Oxygen’: Delhi HC to Centre

The matter will be taken up again on Thursday, 22 April.

4 min read

In an urgent hearing, the Delhi High Court on Wednesday, 21 April, directed the Central government to ensure the supply of medical oxygen by “whatever means required”.

The matter will be taken up again on Thursday.

Dictating its order, the Bench said they hoped that the needs of the petitioner (Max Healthcare) and other hospitals in Delhi are met and no difficulty arises for patients till the matter is taken up again on Thursday.

Further, the court said that the Delhi Government “will initiate the logistical work for the supply of the quantity of oxygen, which is said to be not allotted out of the allocated quantity”.

The order came after an urgent plea filed by Max Healthcare, citing an acute shortage of oxygen. Max had informed the court that it currently has only three hours of oxygen and if the oxygen runs outs, the lives of 400 patients, out of which 262 are COVID patients, are under threat.

The Division Bench of Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Rekha Palli, earlier in the evening, directed the Central government to protect the right to life of citizens who are seriously ill and require medical oxygen.

Meanwhile, responding to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s request for an adjournment till Thursday morning, the court said: “If you assure that none of the hospitals in Delhi will face a critical situation tonight, we have no problem.”

However, when the Solicitor General suggested that the GNCTD Counsel, Rahul Mehra, can probably give that assurance, the latter replied saying that his “shoulders were not big enough for the responsibility”.

“It is a question of lives. If it was a commercial transaction, I could have. My shoulders are not big enough to take this.”
Rahul Mehra, GNCTD Counsel

‘Centre Must Ensure Supply of Oxygen’

The court observed that the supply of medical oxygen from established sources, such as INOX, is not able to meet the present demand. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Central government to ensure that this demand is met by other means.

“We witnessed the overnight development at Nashik where oxygen supply was disrupted due to a leak and many people died. The demand of oxygen by Max and others to deal with COVID-19 patients has gone up manifold.”
Delhi High Court

The court directed the Central government, if necessary, to divert the entire supply of oxygen from industries, particularly steel and petroleum.

Recognising the issue of transporting oxygen, the court asked the Central government to “consider ways and means” of transporting oxygen from plants by either creating a dedicated corridor so that the supply lines are not affected or consider the option of airlifting. 

‘What Have You Done About the Problem?’

The court rapped the Central government regarding the prevailing medical crisis, saying that the current supply of oxygen is “no solace to anybody”. The court also asked the Central government, “What have you done so far?”

“Why is it not dawning upon your officers that the supply of oxygen to steel and petroleum industries need to be minimised. Why are you showing hesistancy? Is running a steel plant so important? Ask Mr Tata. He’ll be willing to help.”
Delhi High Court

The court expressed further “disappointment” in the steps taken by the Central government so far to manage the crisis.

“Why is the government not waking up to the reality? How is the government so oblivious of the ground reality? We can’t let people die.” 
Delhi High Court

‘What Explains Industrial Greed for Oxygen?’

The court asked the Central government that if Tata Steel can divert its oxygen supply for COVID treatment, why can’t other industries follow suit?

“This is the height of greed. Is there no humanity left?”
Delhi High Court

In light of this, the court recorded in its order that the government can very well divert the production of oxygen from petroleum industries. The court noted that even if these industries run at lower capacities till the time more oxygen is imported, “heavens are not going to fall”.

The court also reportedly slammed the Centre for still allowing industrial use of oxygen, despite its Tuesday order:

“This is really ridiculous. You are concerned with the industries while people die. That means human lives don’t matter for the government.”
Delhi High Court

The court directed the Central government to take over the production of oxygen from steel plants even if it amounted to “shutting down these industries”. The steel and petroleum industries were also directed to make their oxygen production avaliable to the Central government.

“We direct the Central government to provide a safe passage so that oxygen supply to Max hospital is not obstructed by any law and order problem.”
Delhi High Court

Delhi HC Serves Contempt Notice to Oxygen Manufacturer

Earlier, the Delhi High Court had issued a notice of contempt to an oxygen manufacturer, M/s INOX, for failing to comply with its previous order to supply oxygen to the Delhi government.

On Monday, 19 April, a division bench had directed M/s INOX to honour its contract to supply 140 MT of oxygen to Delhi but the firm had not complied with the court order.

Delhi government’s counsel senior advocate Rahul Mehra had argued that Delhi was facing a grave deficit of medical oxygen and the requirement was 700 MT per day.

Appearing for Delhi government, Mehra had also iterated that the reason for the company’s non-compliance is possibly the law and order situation that may be created, in case the M/s INOX were to transport the oxygen from Uttar Pradesh to Delhi.

Following which the bench asked the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh to be present during the next hearing date, which is 22 April.

These observations were made in the case of Rakesh Malhotra vs Union of India, which is a PIL considering aspects related to the availability of COVID-19 beds, oxygen supply, RT-PCR tests among other facilities in the national capital.

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