'Beg, borrow, steal': Delhi HC pulls up Centre on oxygen scarcity in hospitals for COVID patients

The court said that responsibility to ensure oxygen supply is squarely on Central government shoulders and if necessary, entire supply of oxygen to industries can be diverted.

Published: 21st April 2021 09:06 PM  |   Last Updated: 22nd April 2021 01:31 AM   |  A+A-

Workers unload oxygen cylinders from a truck at a hospital, amid countrywide spike in Covid-19 cases, in Prayagraj. (Photo | PTI)

For representational image. (File photo| PTI)


NEW DELHI: Issuing unusually strong strictures on the Modi government and private industries, the Delhi High Court on Wednesday ordered the Centre to "forthwith" provide oxygen by whatever means to hospitals here facing shortage of the gas in treating serious COVID-19 patients, observing it "seems human life is not important for the state".

"You are not exploring all avenues to augment oxygen supply. Beg, borrow or steal," the court told the Centre, and asked why it was not waking up to the gravity of the emergency situation. It also warned that certainly all hell will break loose with the stoppage of medical oxygen to the hospitals.

"Fact of the matter is there is an oxygen shortage. It is there for us to see. We cannot shut our eyes to it," the bench said during an extraordinary hearing of a plea on the matter on a public holiday, and added that the government cannot say it cannot provide more oxygen and people can be left to die on roads.

The hearing that began at 7.30 pm went on till 10.45 pm. "That is not acceptable. That is not an answer from a responsible sovereign state," said a bench comprising Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli, and added "We cannot afford to lose lives, that is the bottom line."

" "Why is the Centre not waking up to the gravity of the situation? We are shocked and dismayed that hospitals are running out of oxygen but steel plants are running," the court said, and added "How the government can be so oblivious of the reality."

The Central government, represented by Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, thereafter, assured the court that it will facilitate supply of the increased allocation of 480 metric tonnes of oxygen to Delhi and the same will reach the national capital without any obstructions.

Taking on record the assurance given by the SG, the court listed the matter for further hearing on Thursday and said, "We are hopeful that the emergent needs of the hospitals in Delhi would be met so that there are no casualties due to discontinuation of oxygen support till we take up the matter tomorrow."

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The court also asked the Delhi government to act immediately to work out the logistics of procuring the remaining quantity of oxygen which it was to receive earlier in the day, but could not get due to obstructions in the neighbouring states.

The plea filed by Balaji Medical and Research Centre, which owns and runs various hospitals in the name of Max, contended that if supply of oxygen is not replenished on an immediate basis, the lives of the patients who are critical and on oxygen support will be endangered.

"Do you want to see thousands of people dying in the country? Is running steel plants so important and urgent?" the court asked, as it came down heavily on the Centre for not diverting sufficient oxygen supply from industries to hospitals.

During the hearing, the court said the responsibility to ensure oxygen supply lay squarely on the Central government's shoulders and if necessary, entire supply of oxygen to industries including steel and petroleum can be diverted for medical usage.

"There is no sense of humanity left or what? This is really really ridiculous and shocking. You are concerned about industries when people are dying. It an emergency you should realize. It seems human life is not important for the state," he said.

The court directed the Central government to protect the fundamental right to life of citizens who are seriously ill and require medical oxygen and to supply the same by whatever means it is required. "Our concern is not just for Delhi, we want to know what the Central government is doing with regard to oxygen supply across India," it said and added, "What is the Central government doing? If this is the situation in Delhi, we are sure it is the same in other states. The country is facing an emergency situation where hospitals are short of oxygen which is also going to end in a few hours."

The court said that the steel and petrochemical industries are oxygen guzzlers and diverting oxygen from there can meet requirements of hospitals. "If Tatas can divert oxygen they are generating for their steel plants to medical use, why can't others? This is the height of greed. Is there no sense of humanity left or not," he said.

The court said transportation of oxygen from the place of production to the place of supply is also a challenge and time consuming activity as it is done only through highways in the normal course. "The Central government shall consider ways and means for transportation of oxygen either by creating a dedicated corridor so that the supply lines are not obstructed or even airlift it from the place of production to the place of usage," it added.

The court said heavens are not going to fall if the industries, including steel and petroleum, run on lower capacity till oxygen is imported.

It said certainly all hell will break loose with the stoppage of medical oxygen for hospitals. "We are constrained to direct the Centre to forthwith implement this order and take over supply of oxygen from steel plants and if necessary also from the petroleum plants, to supply it to hospitals," he said.

The court said such industries will have to stop their productions till the situation in hospitals improves and directed them to increase their oxygen production generated by them and give it to Centre for supply in other states for medical use.

The petition said there are six Max hospitals in the national capital and NCR and are treating 1,400 COVID-19 patients.

The bench was informed by the counsel for M/s Inox, which supplies oxygen to hospitals in Delhi, that a certain quantity is on its way from a UP plant to Max Hospital, Patparganj here and will reach in two hours.

Towards the conclusion of the hearing, the court was informed that the supplies of oxygen from UP has reached the Max hospitals.


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