Sunday, June 4, 2023

Delhi High Court orders Centre to ensure oxygen supply, blocking supply will be a criminal act

The High Court also asked the Central government to ensure that allocation takes place as planned and transportation of the tankers takes place unhindered.

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ILNS: The Delhi High Court made it clear on Thursday that any attempt by anybody to interfere with the uninterrupted supply of oxygen from manufacturing units to any hospital in any state, will draw criminal penalty.

A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said, “We direct the Centre to ensure strict compliance of the allocation order, the High Court’s April 21 order and the DDMA order. We also direct the authorities concerned, who are bound by the order passed under the Disaster Management Act, to ensure strict compliance. We direct that non-compliance will invite criminal action.”

The High Court also asked the Central government to ensure that allocation takes place as planned and transportation of the tankers takes place unhindered. The Court further said that adequate security will have to be provided to trucks transporting the oxygen, to move without obstruction.

The Bench reassembled this afternoon, following last night’s marathon hearing, seeking to clear the air on the critical situation of oxygen depletion in hospitals. Yesterday, the court had directed all governments that whatever the method employed – “beg, borrow or steal” – oxygen supply to hospitals (as well the supply of life saving drugs) must be maintained.

During the hearing today, Rahul Mehra, Senior Advocate representing the Delhi government, said, “Police and the administration of Haryana are sitting in the plant (which manufactures oxygen) and they are allowing oxygen to be supplied only in Haryana (stating officials’ statement).” He said he would be highly obliged, if oxygen could be airlifted.

Justice Sanghi said, “Airlifting is a very dangerous.” The Court was told that the states were not getting their allocated quantity.

Justice Sanghi asked Advocate Rajiv Nayar, appearing for Inox, “Are you able to supply what is being allocated?” To this, Nayar replied in affirmative.

Mehra said, “When we were allocated from INOX, from (the allocation of) 100, there was a shortage of 40. As I write, it needs immoderate intervention as the oxygen is not being allowed outside Haryana.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said, “This is not the way, Mr Mehra.”

Mehra said: “I’m doing what Mr Mehta taught me yesterday.”

Justice Sanghi told the Centre, “The problem is that your allocation is not being respected by the states.”

Advocate Satyakam (also representing Delhi), giving the current status of oxygen supply, said, “It is pandemic. The need today may be of 300, tomorrow it may become 600.”

To that, SG Mehta said, “We are looking at Delhi, but the Centre is looking at the whole of India.”

Mehra, quoting an ANI report, said, “There is a CEO of a hospital, who has asked his doctors to discharge their patients, because they can’t keep them without oxygen.”

SG Mehta said, “We have passed an order under the NDMA Act, to ensure uninterrupted supply of oxygen.”

Piyush Goyal, Secretary from the Ministry of Home Affairs, accepted “There was a problem at Haryana… in the morning. Two tankers left for Delhi with 30MT (of oxygen). Then Haryana said they needed oxygen… I am in touch with Delhi’s Nodal officer Mr Udit,” he said.

The court pointed out, “The problem is that it has to be supplied every day; it’s not a one-day thing.”

Secretary Goyal said, “Delhi and Haryana have been ensured no more problems will arise. Suppliers are giving to various hospitals. Nodal Officer Mr Udit, an IAS officer of UT cadre, has made adjustments to ensure that no hospital faces shortages. I have asked him to join, maybe he can join now.”

Rahul Mehra said, “140 MT is the total allocation as of yesterday. But 80 MT is how much we received yesterday. We were only able to lift that much. Today not a single MT has been lifted. I don’t know where these instructions are coming from.”

The court told SG Mehta, “If the government wants, it can make heaven and earth meet. You have passed the order, please see that it’s implemented. They’re saying 80 MT from yesterday, 140 MT or howsoever much from today. If that comes, maybe people will be able to breathe for a little longer.”

SG Mehta informed the court that oxygen can be produced at the Vedanta plant, which was closed in Tamil Nadu. “We can reopen it to produce medical oxygen.”

At that point, the SG mentioned the case hearing tomorrow before the CJI bench at the Supreme Court. The Delhi High Court Bench said that though the Supreme Court is in a better position, it will continue to hear the matter.

Senior Advocate G Tushar Rao said that a colleague’s mother is admitted in a particular hospital, where they’ve been issued a letter asking to take the patient out, about an hour or two back. “This is the fallout. Hospitals saying take the patient out as we can’t supply oxygen. How can they ask critical patients to leave?”

Read Also: No bar on movement of oxygen, Centre tells Delhi HC, shows new order to ensure hassle-free transit

The court accepted Mehra’s assertion that “supply is being obstructed. We are informed that authorities at Panipat had obstructed the lifting of oxygen. Yesterday also, supply was obstructed near Faridabad border. Piyush Goyal, Additional Secretary, MHA, said that officials in Panipat were persuaded not to interrupt the supply. Thereafter, the court read out the orders.

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