'Why shouldn't we hold you in contempt?': Delhi HC asks Centre, issues notice on non-compliance of oxygen supply orders

FP Staff
·5-min read

The Delhi High Court issued a show cause notice to the Central Government to explain as to why it should not initiate contempt of court proceedings over the govt's failure to supply oxygen as per requirement of the National Capital despite being ordered to do so by the Supreme Court and high court.

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"You can put your head in sand like an ostrich, we will not," a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said, according to PTI, rejecting the Centre's submission that Delhi was not entitled to 700 metric tonnes of medical oxygen in light of existing medical infrastructure.

The Bench which was hearing multiple petitions over the shortage of supply of COVID-19 essentials in the National Capital, including medical grade oxygen, also summoned Union minister and joint MHA secretary Piyush Goyal at the court along with Sumita Dabra of the Industries Department to respond to the notice.

"We see grim reality everyday of people not able to secure oxygen or ICU beds in hospitals which have reduced beds due to gas shortage," the bench said.

The court also pulled up the Central Government over issues in supply of oxygen, saying that it should hand over the responsibility of tankers to IITs and IIMs as they would do a better job of it.

During the course of the hearing, advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing on behalf of the Delhi govt submitted before the court that the National Capital was not supplied oxygen as per requirement.

"Allocated oxygen is 1/3rd of what the tankers can transport since the total capacity of all tankers (cryogenic, nitrogen and argon tankers) is 1600+ MT" Mehra said, adding that India is not only an oxygen surplus country, but also a tanker surplus country.

Issues related to oxygen supply were also highlighted by amicus curiae Rajshekhar Rao.

The Centre, however, objected to the Delhi government's submissions, saying the National Capital was not entitled for 700 MT of oxygen, and that it will be submitting a compliance affidavit to the Supreme court.

According to a LiveLaw report, the court then asked if the central government is living in ivory towers, and remarked: "What you're saying is that because the Delhi Government didn't raise the demand people should be allowed to die now? Is this what it's come to? You want to quibble while people are losing lives?"

The court said the Supreme Court's 30 April detailed order shows direction to the Central Government to provide 700 MT of oxygen per day to Delhi, not just 490 MT. The court then rapped teh Centre saying:

"The Supreme Court has passed an order directing the Centre to ensure the supply. The Centre has submitted to us that a compliance affidavit is being filed before the Supreme Court tomorrow. We fail to understand what good a compliance affidavit will do when the required oxygen is not being brought to Delhi? Even the allocated oxygen has not been delivered on a single day," the court said, according to a report in India Today.

"It pains us that the issue should be viewed the way it's been done by the Central Govt. We have faced issues everyday where hospitals and nursing homes face shortage and have to reduce their bed capacity as there is no oxygen," the court observed, according to Bar and Bench report, saying that the Centre has failed to meet its assurance of supplying oxygen to the National Capital as per the Delhi govt's demand, and directed the presence of Union Minister PIyush Goyal and Sumita Dbara in the court on Wednesday.

Handover responsibility of tankers to IITs, IIMs

The court also slammed the Central Government for failing to fulfill the responsibility of managing oxygen tankers, and asked it to hand over the responsibility to IITs and IIMs as they would do a better job.

"The entire country is crying for oxygen. If you are not managing the oxygen supply properly, why don't you hand over the responsibility to IIT and IIM? ...They will do a better job than you," the court observed.

"It would be contempt of court if you do not supply. Now, it is your job. Tankers are there, but you are not ready to do it," the court said. During the hearing, the Centre had submitted before the court that 433MT oxygen reached Delhi at midnight and 307 MT oxygen came in at 8.15 am, adding that there shall be fair enough oxygen by evening.

When Mehra said that the Centre will have to deliver 590 MT oxygen as citizens are dying with 420 MT, Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma responded saying, "Let's not get into rhetoric."

The court took strong exception to Sharma's remark and asked if Mehra's statement was not a fact.

"You may be blind, we are not. How can you be so insensitive?" the court said, according to Bar and Bench.

The Delhi High Court has reportedly also asked the Central Government to send some tankers from Maharashtra to Delhi if the consumption of oxygen in the former state is low at present.

During the course of the hearing, the court also asked the Centre to explain the reasons as to why the army was deployed in creating additional COVID-19 facilities after senior Advocate Krishna Venugopal apprised the bench that the Centre's response to Delhi Govt's request seeking armed forces help is still awaited.

"This is the exact situation in which the Army is expected to be deployed. Even if they can tell us they will help, in principle, and seek time to analyse the situation." Venugopal submitted, according to Live Law. To this, ASG Sharma said, "We have escalated the matter and it's being looked into. Once Army is requisitioned, it's not just requisitioning. Infrastructure and other facilities also need to be made available."

With inputs from PTI

Also See: 'Hospitals choking beds': Delhi HC directs COVID facilities to give info on daily admissions, discharges of patients

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