Delhi HC expresses concern over COVID-19 deaths due to oxygen shortage, calls for need of gas plants in big hospitals

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New Delhi, Apr 30 (PTI) Expressing deep concern over the death of COVID-19 patients due to shortage of oxygen in hospitals and medical assistance, the Delhi High Court Friday observed that all big healthcare institutions should mandatorily have their own oxygen-generating plants and said the state has failed in protecting citizens' right to life.

A bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said if these bigger hospitals had their own oxygen plants, there could have been something to fall back on. However, unfortunately they are completely dependent, it added.

At that fag end of the over four-hour-long hearing, an advocate urged the court to request authorities to arrange for an ICU bed for his relative.

He has been pleading in the hearing for last three days to arrange for the ICU bed, however, nothing could be done due to the grim situation.

Moments later, he informed the bench that the patient is no more and said, 'I have failed, my brother-in-law has expired so no more efforts are needed.' To this, the judges said, 'No, the state has failed. We all have failed. We have been informed that the patient has expired. We may record our complete helplessness in the situation. We can only say that the state has failed to protect the right to life of people guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.' Meanwhile, the court was informed that Max hospitals are setting up their four oxygen plants and would be ready in a week.

It was informed that the Supreme Court has heard the matter relating to the pandemic situation due to sudden surge in COVID-19 cases, including the aspect of supplying medical oxygen to Delhi and the order would be uploaded Saturday morning.

'We did not want to say that we are the capital but the Supreme Court is battling for us. The Supreme Court has said Delhi being the capital, you have to take care of it,' it said.

The court, which was informed that the apex court has asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to take certain steps, said it will hear the aspect of oxygen on Monday while other issues will be taken up on Saturday.

'We will go through the Supreme Court's order and if need arises, will hear the matter on Monday. If you (Centre) are doing something, it saves us from passing an order. Everyday people are dying. We are fed up of hearing this daily. SOS calls and messages are received daily. It is straining the whole city,' it said.

It was informed about a plant developed by the DRDO for production of oxygen which has been set up in Uttar Pradesh.

Delhi government's counsel informed that a request will be made to the Centre to set up a similar plant in Delhi, which the bench said should be positively done by Saturday.

It also sought response of Delhi government on a plea by a group of lawyers including Bar Council of Delhi chairman Ramesh Gupta seeking arrangement for treatment of lawyers contracting COVID-19.

He submitted that they have identified a hotel for being converted as a COVID care facility and arranged for doctors and treatment but they need to be attached to a hospital for getting ICU beds.

When the counsel urged the court to help them, the bench said, 'We understand your pain. We are going through the same. This surge of COVID has such a huge number...nobody could have imagined that this will attack us in this way... Finances are not the issue here. The problem is infrastructure.

'The problem is we don't have doctors, nurses, attendants, oxygen and medicines. It is a complete failure of the state,' the bench said, adding that, 'it's getting tougher for us.' It has also asked the AAP government to take instructions on the submission that a hospital in the name of Indira Gandhi, which is under construction for last 8 years and is near completion, could be made operational soon and used as COVID facility.

It said the numbers show that COVID-19 testing has drastically gone down and asked the state government to explain.

Further, the issues relating to non supply of allocated oxygen cylinders by refiller units was raised on which the bench asked the Delhi government to sort it out and also suggested for creation of a WhatsApp group of refillers, hospitals and nodal officers to know the status of supplies.

The bench also suspended its April 27 order to the extent that it had directed the Delhi government to take over operations of oxygen refiller 'Seth Air' and had asked the owner to assist the officials. The bench said the plant will be supervised by Delhi government officials as done with other refillers.

Since a lot of hospitals were unable to get proper supplies due to this direction, the bench clarified it had only said that the plant will be run by Delhi government officers and the owner will assist them and it had not oustered him.

The counsel for 'Seth Air' also raised the issue of running out of funds and that the allocation of oxygen made to him was much higher that its capacity and he was unable to supply it, which the court said the Delhi government has to sort out.

Meanwhile, an official of an oxygen refiller unit told the court that they were regularly giving their accounts to the Delhi government and were doing their best.

The court asked them to continue doing that and serve the society in these tough times.

'It is not a battle, it is a war, as a society and community, we cannot let people suffer because of others' greed who are indulging in black marketing. This creates artificial scarcity. People in desperation have to buy oxygen cylinders and medicines in black. That money is of no use. We have to bring out best and not our worst at this time. This is not the time to indulge in black marketing, certainly not,' the bench observed.

The court also directed the authorities to take immediate steps for release of 170 oxygen concentrators, which were seized by the Delhi Police from the black market, as they are required for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. PTI SKV ZMN