Centre, Delhi recriminations no solace to citizens; lives dependent on 'thin thread' of oxygen: SC

·5-min read

New Delhi, May 3 (PTI) The recriminations between the Centre and Delhi government give no solace to citizens whose lives depend on a 'thin thread' of oxygen being made available, the Supreme Court has said.

The top court directed the Centre to create buffer stock of oxygen for emergency in collaboration with states and decentralise the location of the stocks so that it is immediately available if the normal supply chain is disrupted.

It asked the Centre to create the emergency stocks of medical grade oxygen within four days.

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat said the deficit oxygen supply to Delhi must be remedied “forthwith” as “the situation on the ground in Delhi is heart rending”.

“Recriminations between the Central Government (which contends that Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi has not lifted its allocated quantity) and GNCTD (which contends that despite its projected demand the quantity allocated has not been enhanced) can furnish no solace to citizens whose lives depend on a thin thread of oxygen being available,” the top court said in a 64-page order uploaded on its website on late Sunday night.

In the battle of shifting responsibility of supplying/ off taking of oxygen, lives of citizens cannot be put in jeopardy and “the protection of the lives of citizens is paramount in times of a national crisis and the responsibility falls on both the Central Government and the GNCTD to cooperate with each other to ensure that all possible measures are taken to resolve the situation”, it said.

The top court said that despite the claims of Centre, Delhi is being allocated 490MT/day of Oxygen as against the increased demand of 700MT/day, which was admitted by the Union government in its affidavit that the projected demand for Delhi as of April 20, 2021 had increased by 133 per cent from 300 MT/day to 700 MT/day.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta stated that he has instructions to the effect that Delhi's demand of medical oxygen will be met and that the national capital will not suffer due to lack of oxygen, it said.

It also noted assurance given by senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for Delhi after taking instruction from “highest” level that the issue will be resolved completely in a spirit of co-operation.

The bench said Mehta has also assured that henceforth he will ensure that the deficit of oxygen is rectified and supply is made to Delhi government according to their projected demand (which may be revised in the future) on a day by day basis.

“We accept his submission and direct compliance within 2 days from the date of the hearing, that is, on or before midnight of 3 May 2021,” the bench said.

Dealing with supply and availability of medical oxygen for the entire country, the top court directed the Centre to prepare a buffer stock of oxygen for emergency purposes in collaboration with states and decentralise the location of the stocks so that it is immediately available if the normal supply chain is disrupted.

“While the Central and State Governments are in the process of managing the supply of oxygen, at the same time, it is critical that a buffer emergency stock of oxygen is created so that in the event that the supply chain is disrupted to any one or more hospitals in an area for any reason, the buffer or emergency stocks can be used to avoid loss of human lives”, the bench said.

It said that these emergency stocks must be so distributed so as to be easily accessible without delay in every local area.

“We have also seen the situation that has developed in the last 24 hours in Delhi where patients, including among them medical professionals, died because of the disruption of supplies and the time lag in the arrival of tankers. This deficit shall be rectified immediately by the Central Government by creating buffer stocks and collaborating with the States through the virtual control room on a 24 by 7 basis,” it said.

The top court said that in view of the deaths which are being caused daily by the disruption of supplies of Oxygen, its direction is more crucial than ever.

“We therefore, direct the Central Government in collaboration with the States to prepare a buffer stock of oxygen to be used for emergency purposes to ensure supply lines continue to function even in unforeseen circumstances”, it said.

The bench said, “The location of the emergency stocks shall be decentralised so as to be immediately available if the normal supply chain is disrupted to any hospital for any reason. The emergency stocks shall be created within the next four days”.

It said that the replenishment of the emergency stocks shall also be monitored on a real time basis through the virtual control room in active consultation with each state/UT which is in addition to the day to day allocations.

The top court suggested that a mechanism for displaying real time updates of supply of oxygen from each state to hospitals in each district, along with the remaining stock of oxygen with the hospitals may be maintained and shared with the citizens to ensure transparency.

“This will also ensure that citizens can easily identify the hospitals where medical aid can be availed”, it said, adding that the government shall clarify the steps being taken on planning on the use of oxygen concentrators to reduce the demand of (Liquid Medical Oxygen) LMO, such that it is needed only for critical patients. PTI MNL PKS SJK SA