High Court judges in Delhi have accused the Indian government of failing to provide sufficient oxygen supplies as the country suffers through a harsh second wave of coronavirus.
Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli rejected the solicitor general’s claims that enough oxygen was reaching Delhi, telling him: “That we cannot accept... We are living here.”
The Delhi government, led by the Aam Aadmi Party, said the central government provided only 490 of the 700 metric tonnes it requested and provided data to the High Court claiming other states got a higher quota of oxygen than they required while Delhi received less than what they had asked for.
The solicitor general, Tushar Mehta, had asked the court repeatedly not to record the Delhi government's submissions, but it refused his requests and said that it was up to the central government to resolve the crisis.
After Mr Mehta claimed a sufficient supply of oxygen was reaching Delhi, the judges responded: “That may not be correct at all. That we cannot accept. We are very clear on that. We are living here. It is people close to us who are not getting beds and oxygen.
“You are aware of it. We have heard about Haryana people dying, we have heard people in Meerut dying because of oxygen not being available and we have heard about Delhi. We are getting so many calls for arranging beds and oxygen.”
The Delhi High Court has been keeping a close watch on the Covid situation in the city since 19 April. It had earlier asked the central government to reassess the allocation of oxygen to Delhi since it was not getting the 480 metric tonnes of it required.
Mr Mehta told the court: “The Delhi government did demand 700 metric tonnes [of oxygen]. For me, a Delhi citizen is as dear and important as a Kerala citizen. They did demand 700. The allocation is 480-490. The actual quantity coming to Delhi, 335-340, which according to our assessment at the official level is sufficient.”
He continued: “The Delhi government has been unable to lift as much as they are allotted. It is not the NDA government helping the Aam Aadmi Party government. It is the central government helping the people of Delhi. Ninety per cent of our time goes into the firefighting of Delhi.
“We are augmenting for them even tanker capacities. A substantial chunk of tankers being imported will go to Delhi. We have logistical problems all over the country. Every state by and large has faced the problem and they have tried to solve it. I am sure Delhi is trying its best, too, but it may have its own geographical reasons. We are with the Delhi government.”
However, the court insisted on asking why Delhi’s allocation has been limited to 480-490 metric tonnes despite its rising number of cases.
The court also said that there was panic “because of lack of resources, not just oxygen, medicine, beds, everything.”
The court added: “Hospitals are not taking patients. Those beds are lying vacant because they do not have oxygen and cannot service those beds. We have already had loss of lives in Delhi due to lack of oxygen… It has really fallen on you to resolve this.
“How you resolve it is your problem. We do not want to go into this. If you want to allocate something more than what is desired by some particular state, you, by all means, do that… so long as you serve what is for Delhi.”
As per the data submitted by the Delhi government to the High Court, several states got more oxygen than was required. For example, Tamil Nadu required 200 metric tonnes (MT) and received 220 MT. Madhya Pradesh required 445 and received 543. Maharashtra required 1,500 MT and received 1,661 MT.
The court said: “We are going by facts and figures. Let’s not get emotional about it. You have to beat this head-on. You can’t duck it.
“When the demand was 445, how do you allocate 540 (to Madhya Pradesh) and if the demand is 1,500, how do you allocate 1,616 (to Maharashtra)?”
According to the ministry of health and family welfare data, India saw a total of about 386,000 Covid positive cases on Friday and about 3,498 deaths. India has seen more than 200,000 Covid deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Many countries have offered aid to the country amid a devastating Covid second wave.
Mr Mehta had earlier also said: “Let’s try and not be a cry baby.” He was replying to Delhi government lawyer Rahul Mehra’s complaint that the central government was not complying with the guidelines on oxygen allocation.
Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court on Friday called the Covid crisis in the national capital “a war and not a battle.” The court said that it was a “complete failure of the state that everything including hospital beds and medical oxygen is in short supply.”