Delhi HC pulls up Centre for not diverting sufficient oxygen to hospitals for COVID-19 patients


New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Wednesday (April 21) ordered the Centre to “forthwith” provide oxygen by whatever means to hospitals here facing a shortage of gas in treating serious COVID-19 patients. The HC also issued unusually strong strictures on the Modi government and private industries, saying it “seems human life is not important for the state”.

The court is learned to have told the Centre, “You are not exploring all avenues to augment oxygen supply. Beg, borrow or steal,” asking why is it not waking up to the gravity of the emergency situation. The court also warned that certainly, all hell will break loose with the stoppage of medical oxygen to the hospitals.

Holding an urgent hearing on a public holiday on a plea filed by Balaji Medical and Research Centre, which owns and runs various hospitals in the name of Max, the court said if supply of oxygen is not replenished on an immediate basis, the lives of the patients who are critical and on oxygen support will be endangered.

A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli asked, “Do you want to see thousands of people dying in the country?” It came down heavily on the Centre for not diverting sufficient oxygen supply from industries to hospitals.

The court further said that the responsibility to ensure oxygen supply lay squarely on the Central government’s shoulders and if necessary, entire supply of oxygen to industries including steel and petroleum can be diverted for medical usage.

“Why is the Centre not waking up to the gravity of the situation? We are shocked and dismayed hospitals running out of oxygen but steel plants are running,” the court said, adding “how the government can be so oblivious of the reality”.

It further said, “There is no sense of humanity left or what? This is really really ridiculous and shocking. You are concerned about industries when people are dying. It an emergency you should realize. It seems human life is not important for the state.”

The court also directed the Centre to protect the fundamental right to life of citizens who are seriously ill and require medical oxygen and to supply the same by whatever means it is required.

The HC bench said, “Our concern is not just for Delhi, we want to know what the Central government is doing with regard to oxygen supply across India,” adding “what is the Central government doing. If this is the situation in Delhi, we are sure it is the same in other states.”

“Do you want to see thousands of people dying in the country? Is running steel plants so important and urgent?,” the bench said, and added that today, the country is facing an emergency situation where hospitals are short of oxygen which is also going to end in few hours.

“If Tatas can divert oxygen they are generating for their steel plants to medical use, why can’t others? This is the height of greed. Is there no sense of humanity left or not,” the court observed.

The court said transportation of oxygen from the place of production to the place of supply is also a challenge and time-consuming activity as it is done only through highways in the normal course.

It said, “The Central government shall consider ways and means for transportation of oxygen either by creating a dedicated corridor so that the supply lines are not obstructed or even airlift it from the place of production to the place of usage.”

The court said heavens are not going to fall if the industries, including steel and petroleum, run on lower capacity till oxygen is imported, adding that certainly all hell will break loose with the stoppage of medical oxygen for hospitals.

“We are constrained to direct the Centre to forthwith implement this order and take over supply of oxygen from steel plants and if necessary also from the petroleum plants, to supply it to hospitals,” it directed.

The plead said that there are six Max hospitals in the national capital and NCR and are treating 1,400 COVID-19 patients. The bench was informed by the counsel for M/s Inox, which supplies oxygen to hospitals in Delhi, that certain quantity is on its way from a UP plant to Max Hospital, Patparganj.

On the apprehension that there could be some obstructions and law and order problem, the court directed the Centre that a safe passage be provided to oxygen supply from the place of production to the place of supply. 

Notably, several Delhi hospitals treating COVID-19 patients faced a major medical oxygen crisis with their depleting stock for the second consecutive day, prompting the Centre to increase the city’s quota to 480 metric tonnes against the AAP dispensation’s demand of 700 MT.

Although Chief Minister Arvind Kerjiwal said the Delhi government is “very grateful” to the Centre for increasing the oxygen quota, officials in the city administration flagged that 100 MT supply will come from Odisha and West Bengal which will take almost 72 hours to reach the city.

A record 28,395 coronavirus cases and 277 deaths marked the aggravation of the pandemic situation in Delhi on Tuesday as the positivity rate shot up to 32.82 per cent amid a “serious oxygen crisis” unfolding in the city.

(With Agency Inputs) 

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