HC tells Centre to ensure supply on hospital’s appeal
- The court also cited the tragedy in a Nashik hospital, where 24 lives were lost due to a leak in an oxygen tank.
“We cannot see people dying for the lack of oxygen,” said the Delhi high court on Wednesday as it nudged the Centre into ensuring sufficient quantity of medical oxygen for patients in Delhi along with an unobstructed passage of the cylinders to the national capital from different states.
“The citizen can only fall back on the State and it is your duty to provide. Beg, borrow or steal but you must provide. And it is our bounden duty to make sure people’s fundamental right to life is not curtailed,” said a bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said in an urgent late evening hearing that started around 8 pm and ended at 10.40 pm.
The hearing saw both the judges exhorting the Central government to make certain that no death happens in Delhi due to shortage of supply of oxygen after Max Hospitals complained that they were running short on oxygen and were down to only a few hours of supply in some facilities.
“Today it is Max before us but there could be several other hospitals which have the same problem. The shortage is there and it is there for everyone to see. We cannot shut our eyes to this. You can’t say we can’t provide only this much and no more and let people die. That can’t be an answer from a sovereign government and we are not ready to accept such an answer. We can’t see people dying because they don’t have oxygen,” the bench told solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Union government in the matter.
It added: “We are in dire straits. Hundreds and thousands of lives are lost because of lack of oxygen. As a sovereign state, it is your responsibility to make sure sufficient oxygen is there. You can’t turn around and say you don’t have more oxygen. You cannot say that we can only provide this and if people are dying, let them die. That cannot be an answer by a responsible and sovereign state. You just draw on oxygen from captive industries and do everything else. And if some of the plants are to be shut, so be it. But people can’t lose lives because of oxygen.”
The court also cited the tragedy in a Nashik hospital, where 24 lives were lost due to a leak in an oxygen tank.
On his part, the S-G submitted that the Centre was committed to procuring maximum quantity of oxygen from all possible sources and its duty was confined to allocate it equitably to all the states. About Delhi, Mehta informed that the allocation to the capital was increased from 378 MT to 480 MT and it was now for the Delhi government to get its transported from the points of procurement.
Delhi government’s standing counsel Rahul Mehra agreed with the S-G about the hike in the oxygen allocation and expressed his gratitude but sought police protection during the transit.
Mehta assured the court that the Centre will ascertain safe passage for the oxygen cylinders to Delhi.
The bench then recorded the statement by the S-G about the increase in allocation and the safe passage while deferring the matter for a hearing on Thursday when the issue of diversion of oxygen from captive plants will be taken up.
During the hearing, the bench observed that supply of medical oxygen should be stopped for industrial use and even the amendment—that the plants having captive oxygen can continue their production—does not help as it is an “emergent situation”.
“Every citizen is entitled to that protection. In such a situation, you are saying that the industry would not be stopped. How are your officers not looking at the situation?” the bench asked Mehta.
Mehta said that the order of stopping oxygen to the industries was sought to be earlier implemented from April 22 in wake of the time required for the technical shut down, which was given to implement the order.