The Ministry of Finance, on the evening of Monday, 3 May, tweeted that no consignment of 3,000 oxygen concentrators is pending with customs authorities, hours after it was asked by the Delhi High Court about the same.
The ministry said that the Government Counsel had clarified before the court that no such consignment is pending with Custom Authorities, but “social media has been flooded with the news that 3,000 oxygen concentrators are lying with Customs”.
Stating that they have again checked with the field formations and there is no such consignment lying with the Customs, the Ministry also added:
“However, since a photograph has also been put on Twitter, if anybody has information as to where it is lying, the same may be informed to us and we will take immediate action.”
This comes as the national capital faces a dire shortage of oxygen and major hospitals put out SOS calls after losing patients due to inadequate and delayed supply.
A Delhi High Court bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli, hearing a case on the oxygen crisis, on Monday, asked the Centre to inform the court of the status of oxygen concentrators that have been imported and are pending customs clearance as of 12 pm on Monday, 3 May.
On Oxygen Concentrators
The court was responding to a matter raised by senior advocate Krishnan Venugopal over 100s of concentrators not clearing customs.
“Customs be put on war footing (with respect to release of oxygen concentrators). Max Hospital has 3,000 concentrators lying in customs,” said Venugopal.
He noted, as per LiveLaw, that they can be first distributed to the hospitals, following which due diligence to ensure no black marketing occurs can be carried out.
The court observed, “People should not lose their lives for this. That there are resources but they are pending clearance.”
The Centre’s advocate, Amit Mahajan, responded that a joint secretary nodal officer has been appointed who will clear the customs of concentrators on priority. He also said that, as on 30 April, the Centre has cleared 40,000 oxygen concentrators.
On Army’s Involvement
Senior advocate Abhinav Vashisht submitted to the court that the armed forces should be brought in, since they have tankers and the training to execute everything.
“We are only looking at a solution. Citizens of India are dying because of lack of coordination,” said Vashisht.
The court replied that this matter has been raised in the past, and the state government has been directed to take action.
It recorded submissions with respect to a letter written to Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, carrying a request for the help of Indian Army in setting up hospitals with oxygen and ICU beds.
The court, further, took note of Venugopal’s suggestion that communication be sent to station masters to expedite action in Delhi.
On Retired Doctors Tele-Consulting
On the subject of roping in retired doctors for running helplines, the court observed: “It could be done parallelly by the Centre and state. Centre can give option of consultation in regional languages."
Venugopal submitted ICMR guidelines on different types of treatment for patients, and submitted that there are doctors in US, UK who are tele-consulting for moderate cases that don’t require hospitalisation, which could be effective. He pressed for retired doctors to man tele-consultation calls.
He also submitted that the Delhi government is to get back on freeing up ambulances and using DTC buses to ferry the deceased, as well as making additional space for crematoriums.
As the national capital’s medical infrastructure has been crumbling in light of the surge in COVID cases, hundreds in the national capital are battling a shortage of oxygen that is critical in saving the lives of both COVID and non-COVID patients.
(With inputs from LiveLaw and Bar and Bench)