The Delhi High Court conducted a special hearing after it was approached in an urgent application by Max Hospitals about the shortage of oxygen in its hospitals across Delhi. It said it had only 2-3 hours of oxygen left.
The bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli conducted hearing at 8 P.M which went on till later in the night, and effectively examined the entire oxygen shortage dilemma being faced by Delhi while making the Centre accountable for continued use of oxygen by steel and petrochemical industries.
While the Delhi government did thank the Centre for increasing the allocation of oxygen supply, the issue was of tankers reaching the desired destination unobstructed and securely. Tankers were being obstructed on borders as all of Delhi’s oxygen supply comes from other states as the state does not have any oxygen producing unit. The court questioned the Centre why industries were still being allowed to use oxygen while it was a scarce life-saving commodity amidst a medical emergency.
The Delhi High Court over the past few days has been taking stock of the Covid situation in Delhi while giving specific directions to the Centre as well as Delhi government on a daily basis. The persistent issue in Delhi in the past 2 days has been shortage of oxygen supply to hospitals. On April 20 the court had questioned the Centre why the order for diverting oxygen for industrial use to medical use was being implemented from April 22 when the need for the same was urgent.
On the special hearing held at 8 P.M, the bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli were dealing with an urgent petition filed by Max Hospital highlighting acute oxygen deficiency at its hospitals in Delhi.
The bench was extremely concerned with the oxygen supply shortage and pulled up the central government for giving exemption to steel and petrochemical industries while banning industrial use of oxygen. The bench reportedly asked, “If Tatas can divert their oxygen why can’t others do it? This is the height of greed if we can say that. There is no humanity left or what?”
LiveLaw reported that addressing the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Family and Health Welfare (MoFHW), the bench asked, “How is this that the government is so oblivious to the ground reality? We can’t have people die”.
“We are shocked and dismayed that the government does not seem to be mindful of the extremely urgent need of medical oxygen,” the bench observed during the hearing. The bench had dictated an order directing the Centre to take over the production of oxygen from steel plants, even petroleum plants even if that means the industries have to stop production for the time being. The bench was about to pronounce the order when the central government counsel made a request to adjourn the matter until tomorrow so that the secretaries of the concerned department could remain present. The bench however refused to adjourn until tomorrow and directed that the secretaries if they have to remain present can come before the court at 9.20 P.M. The hearing was thus deferred briefly.
At 9.20 P.M when the bench resumed hearing, the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared and submitted that time was given until April 22 to steel and petrochemical industries as they require about 72 hours to shut down their operations. The bench was not satisfied with this submission and remarked that in such an emergent situation if industries cannot be stopped even for some time, it is difficult for the bench to accept.
“Citizens can only fall back on state. So you have to beg, borrow or steal and ensure the protection of fundamental emergency,” the bench said.
Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra appearing for Government of National Capital territory of Delhi (GNCTD) made a submission that obstructions were cause at Delhi Haryana border on oxygen tankers and said that even if the Centre had increased the oxygen supply, the state had to micro manage every such situation until the oxygen tankers reached the hospitals.
The bench pushed the Centre to exercise its sovereign and plenary powers to procure oxygen from industries to which SG Mehta responded that he needed time to seek instructions until the next day. Justice Palli said, “If you assure that none of the hospitals in Delhi will face a critical situation tonight, we have no problem.”
However, no such assurance could be given either by the Centre or the GNCTD. Thereafter, Sumita Dawra, Additional Secretary, DPIIT, Ministry of Commerce and Industry joined the proceedings and submitted that since April 2020, oxygen for industrial use has been diverted for medical use and process of mapping is undertaken so that the sources from which the Oxygen can be supplied are mapped to the states where it is required. She informed the court that for use of medical Oxygen in the NCT of Delhi has been raised from 378 MT to 480 MT with effect from April 21, as the decision was taken on April 20.
On the other hand, Mehra for GNCTD submitted that it had received somewhere between 200- 250 MT of Oxygen on April 21, and stated that there were obstructions in the receipt of the said Oxygen, and the same was delayed for that reason. SG Mehta assured the court that the Health Ministry order of supplying 480 MT oxygen to Delhi will be followed through and the same shall be unobstructed. He assured the court the safe passage of the Medical Oxygen tankers to Delhi of the allocated Oxygen. The court also stated that while Centre has assured allocation and safe passage it was now up to Delhi government to ensure distribution.
While taking this assurance on record, the court hoped that the emergent needs of various hospitals in Delhi would be met so that no casualties are suffered on account of discontinuing the supply of Oxygen to seriously ill Covid patients, and other serious patients who require Oxygen for support until the next hearing, to be held today.
The complete order may be read here: