CHENNAI: Observing that oxygen is the need of the hour and immediate measures to augment its supply in the state have to be taken, the Madras High Court directed the Centre to ensure that the state's needs are met until the Supreme Court-appointed National Task Force begins its work.
The first bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy made the observations while passing directions in the suo motu plea taken up by the Court on the Covid-19 management in the state.
The Court in its orders said, "In view of the comprehensive directions, including the rational and equitable distribution of oxygen, vaccines and drugs, it is for the National Task Force to come out with plans and allocations. However, till such time that the National Task Force announces the allocations in consultation with local officials, it is the Union which is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the continuous supply of oxygen, vaccines and drugs to the States and Union Territories."
During the hearing, the state advocate general R Shunmughasundaram submitted that with the rising numbers, the demand for oxygen will hit 800 MT in the next few days and sought an augmented supply of oxygen. The state also submitted that 40 MT of oxygen per day initially will be supplied by the Sterlite plant at Thoothukudi by May 15.
The bench also stressed the logistical issues in supplying oxygen to the southern states, noting, "The State and the Centre should find ways of effective supply to the south-western region of the State since supply from Sriperumbudur or elsewhere in the north or central Tamil Nadu may be logistically difficult to reach the south-western part of the State and, at any rate, less efficient than ensuring supply from neighbouring Palakkad which is about 40 km away (sic)."
Taking into account the rise in Covid-19 cases, the bench in its order observed that keeping in mind, "....the present allocation of medical oxygen and the rising need of the State, it is necessary to think of a plan B. Oxygen generators have apparently been set up by the Defence Research and Development Organisation at short notice at some places... If, as the experts suggest, a third wave may be in the offing, it is necessary to be over-prepared and not require the resources being put to use rather than being unprepared and rue not having garnered additional resources."
The bench before adjourning also said that both Tamil Nadu and Puducherry are running short of drugs and vaccines. "In Tamil Nadu, the vaccination for persons below the age of 45 has not been possible because of the lack of the number of doses."
The bench adjourned the plea to Wednesday for the Central government to file a detailed report on the oxygen allocation and the availability of the drugs.