700 MT oxygen should reach Delhi daily, SC tells Centre
In sharp remarks to the Centre, the Supreme Court (SC) on Friday reiterated that Delhi should receive 700 metric tonnes (MT) of oxygen on a daily basis until further orders. During the hearing, a bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud and comprising Justice MR Shah said that concerned officials should arrange the required quota, although the order would be uploaded later in the day.
The SC on Wednesday had stayed a Delhi High Court (HC) order dated May 4, regarding a show-cause notice for contempt to the Centre for failing to supply adequate oxygen. It had said that hauling up government officials would not solve the national capital's oxygen shortage. Granting the stay, the SC had said the Centre must ensure the 700 MT oxygen supply to Delhi.
According to Bar and Bench, Justice Chandrachud told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, "We want 700 MT oxygen to be supplied to Delhi on daily basis and we mean business. It has to be supplied and we don't want to be coercive." Prior to this, the Delhi government's advocate Rahul Mehra had told the bench that the quantity supplied by Thursday midnight was 527 MT.
The SC said the Centre cannot claim that it had followed the court's directions after supplying the quantity on a single day. "It is not that 700 MT is supplied on a single day and court's order are assuaged," noted the bench, Live Law reported. The bench told the Centre that its officers will have to ensure a 700 MT oxygen supply every day.
The SG on Thursday had told the court that 730.7 MT oxygen was received by the NCT of Delhi by the end of May 5. "This is more than Your Lordships' direction of 700 MT," he said, adding that the national capital had excess oxygen. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a letter for the oxygen allocated.
During Thursday's hearing, the SG had said that he knew for a fact that the excess oxygen supply had not been distributed. He pointed out that states such as Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh are also seeking more oxygen. He said if Delhi's rational requirement of oxygen is superseded, it may hamper the equitable distribution of tankers among the states.
However, Justice Chandrachud had asked the SG to take into consideration the storage capacity of Delhi hospitals and said the supply will fall short again in a span of two days. He was referring to the SG's remark of the tankers' turnaround time increasing as the unloading of oxygen is a long process. He asked, "To what extent is the storage capacity availed of?"
On Thursday, the Delhi government also opposed the Centre's plea for an audit on Delhi's oxygen utilization. Representing Delhi, advocate Rahul Mehra questioned the arbitrary manner in which the Centre is allocating oxygen. If the oxygen allocated is enough, why are patients and their families sending SOS messages about low oxygen, Mehra questioned, according to The Times of India.
Justice Chandrachud had reiterated that the formula for calculating oxygen requirements, which is based on the number of hospital beds and active cases, is not entirely accurate. He said that the formula did not factor the oxygen requirements for COVID-19 patients in home isolation, in ambulances, or otherwise in travel. "Based on the formula, there is a gross underestimation of the requirement," he said.
"We are not in stage one (of the pandemic) anymore, but in stage two, and soon, we might be in stage three. So, the basis of allocation of oxygen must also change, we need different parameters, we must prepare for it today," Justice Chandrachud said.
The SC said the matter will be taken up again on Monday and the situation may be different if an audit exercise is undertaken. "You need to augment the supplies so that there is sufficient availability of oxygen in Delhi between Friday and Monday. You have the holding operation, but it does not mean that you reduce the supplies. 700 you have to give."