Covid-19: Not in Agreement with Centre on Availability of Enough Oxygen, Says Delhi HC

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The Delhi High Court Monday said it was not in agreement with the Centre that there is enough oxygen available to treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients in the national capital. “Today there is shortage (of oxygen). The Solicitor Genersl says there is no shortage but we will not accept it because we have ourselves seen there is shortage of oxygen,” said a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli. Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said his submission was that there is enough oxygen if distributed properly and the issue was of transportation and not the supply.

I have not said Delhi has enough oxygen. I am saying right now we have enough oxygen if distributed properly, he said. During the hearing, petitioner advocate Rakesh Malhotra made the submission that there was shortage of RT-PCR kits.

Taking note of the submission, the bench said it has already directed the Centre to take steps to prioritise clearance of imported kits held up with the custom department. The Centre’s counsel apprised the court that necessary directions have already been issued by the government to the custom officers.

The court also directed the Centre to take steps to prioritise the clearance of customs for the import of RT-PCR testing kits from abroad. It asked the Centre to file a report in sealed cover within three days on the number of imports pending and cleared and the reason for being held up.

Obstructing cryogenic tankers carrying medical oxygen for COVID-19 patients will tantamount to endangering human lives, the court said, pointing out that the Rajasthan government must honour the orders not to cause any hindrance in transportation of the gas to other states. Acting tough on black marketing in oxygen cylinders, reportedly being sold at Rs 1 lakh per unit here, the high court asked the Delhi government to take action against those indulging in it, saying distribution of gas cylinders is “your baby” and the state should work out an oxygen distribution plan.

We hope and expect the State of Rajasthan to honour the orders passed by the court and the Central government. An obstruction in the matter of liquid oxygen at this stage will tantamount to endangering hundreds of human lives. It will serve no purpose to anyone to obstruct, a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said, adding that the stoppage of tankers will have a snowballing effect. The two judges, who have been conducting marathon proceedings on the oxygen crisis almost on a daily basis since April 19, including on holidays, said they wish they could save each and every life being lost due to coronavirus.

We wish we could save each and every life. We wish we could do more, the bench said, when the counsel for governments and hospitals and others thanked the judges for their efforts which has helped in improving the situation. During the hearing, the court was informed by INOX, major supplier of oxygen to Delhi, that some of its tankers on their way to the national capital have been stopped by the Rajasthan government and were yet to be released.

Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, told the court that strict action would be taken against those who stopped the tankers and the same would be released. “Consequences would follow. We will set an example… Nobody can stop you. You give us the names of states and officers and we will take action,” he said.

The court said it was not in agreement with the SG that there was no shortage of oxygen. It also directed the Centre to take steps to prioritise the clearance of customs for the import of RT-PCR testing kits from abroad.

The court asked the Centre to file a report in sealed cover within three days on the number of imports pending and cleared and the reason for being up. It also noted that a communication was sent by the Delhi government to Sajjan Jindal, Chairman of JSW, regarding supply of cryogenic tankers for oxygen.

Regarding allocation of oxygen, the court said it is being done by the Centre and the states shall not directly ask the manufacturer about it. The court was also informed by the counsel for Maharaja Agrasen Hospital that their offer to assist the Delhi government in transporting oxygen was ignored.

You place the communication on record and if it was ignored by the state government, that is something very serious and we will have to ask Mr Rahul Mehra (Delhi government counsel) to explain and will pass orders, the bench said and asked the hospital to contact the chief secretary with the offer so that tankers can be procured for oxygen supply. The bench was also informed by the Delhi government that it was in the process of importing 18 tankers which shall be arriving soon and that four new tankers are also coming from another supplier.

We are hoping that with the infrastructure for transporting oxygen is being augmented, the supply of oxygen to Delhi will improve, the bench said. It directed all the refillers of oxygen cylinders in Delhi to be present at the hearing on Tuesday following complaints of non-availability of gas cylinders and black marketing.

The bench said it has received information that refillers were selling oxygen sellers at high rates, reportedly at Rs 1 lakh per unit, in the black market and directed the Delhi government to take action against such persons. “Oxygen cylinder distribution is your baby. You have powers, exercise them. If someone is engaging in black marketing, take action. Bring them before us,” the court said.

The Delhi government said that before taking any action it will need the information from the refillers with regard to the deliveries made by them, but if it sends a show cause notice seeking such details, it is viewed as harsh. The court, thereafter, directed that refillers have to comply with its earlier order to provide details of the deliveries made by them to hospitals and others.

It also asked the Delhi Chief Secretary, who was present at the hearing, to hold a meeting with oxygen suppliers, refillers and hospitals during the day to work out a distribution plan. The bench said that just like the Centre has worked out an oxygen distribution plan for the whole country, the Delhi government can have such a plan for the national capital.

A fresh plea has been seeking direction to control black marketing of COVID-19 medicines and to ensure their availability and procurement in a time bound and transparent manner. The high court said it will hear it on Tuesday. The court was hearing various petitions by Maharaja Agrasen Hospital, Jaipur Golden Hospital, Batra Hospital, Shanti Mukund Hospital and Saroj Super Speciality Hospital here among others over shortage of oxygen for treating seriously-ill COVID patients.

It was also hearing a petition of advocate Rakesh Malhotra related to COVID-19 testings and infrastructure, which was revived by the high court itself on April 19, in view of surge in cases.

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