‘Why are some states getting more O2 than they need, while Delhi gets less?’ Delhi HC asks Centre to respond

The Centre has allocated 490 MT medical oxygen to Delhi, which has been demanding 700 MT.
A woman with a breathing problem receives oxygen support for free at a Gurudwara (Sikh temple), amidst the spread of coronavirus disease (Covid-19), in Ghaziabad, India, April 24, 2021. (Reuters)
A woman with a breathing problem receives oxygen support for free at a Gurudwara (Sikh temple), amidst the spread of coronavirus disease (Covid-19), in Ghaziabad, India, April 24, 2021. (Reuters)
Published on Apr 30, 2021 04:16 AM IST
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ByRicha Banka, New Delhi

The Delhi high court on Thursday questioned the Centre for allocating more medical oxygen then asked for to certain states while not providing the quantity being sought by Delhi, which is facing acute shortage.

“We are not saying that people in the other parts of the country should die. But if the demand of a particular state is ‘x’, then why did you give it ‘x+y’? Why don’t you give ‘y’ to Delhi?” a bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli asked the Centre, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

The Centre has allocated 490 MT medical oxygen to Delhi, which has been demanding 700 MT.

With cases in the Capital rising, and most hospitals not adding beds or intensive car units because they do not have access to adequate oxygen, the Delhi government , separately, on Thursday urged the Central government to raise the national capital’s daily quota of medical oxygen from 490 MT to 976 MT and provide logistics support for the enhanced allocation.

Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, who is also Delhi’s nodal minister for Covid-19, wrote to Union minister Piyush Goyal on Thursday stating that the national capital will require more medical oxygen as the government plans to add around 15,000 beds in the next 10 days.

“The people and the Government of NCT of Delhi will be extremely grateful to the Government of India if it can kindly increase the allocation from the present 490 MT per day to 976 MT per day, preferably from nearby oxygen plants, reducing the turnaround time,” Sisodia wrote to Goyal, who is also the minister of commerce and industry and the minister of consumer affairs. He is also the railway minister

On Thursday, the high court rejected the submission of Mehta that the present oxygen supply to Delhi was sufficient, and asked the Centre to respond on why other states were getting more oxygen or almost as much as they demanded.

The bench clarified that it was by no means interested in securing more oxygen for Delhi than required, and that too at the cost of any state or Union territory.

“We make it clear that by no means are we interested in securing for Delhi more than what’s required, and that too at a cost of any other state or Union territory. However, if submissions of Delhi or amicus were to be accepted, it would appear the central government needs to explain this, for which we are granting time. It goes without saying the aforesaid reflect arguments advanced by amicus and (lawyer Rahul Mehra) Delhi,” the court noted in its order.

The question was posed after senior advocates Rajshekhar Rao, amicus curiae in the matter, and Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government, told the court that as per the national allocation plan, Maharashtra demanded 1500 metric tonne (MT) of oxygen per day and was allocated 1661 MT; similarly, Madhya Pradesh demanded 445 MT and it was allocated 543 MT, and that the situation was similar for several other states.

The discussion on the national allocation plan came about after Mehra told the court that Delhi’s demand of 700 MT is not being granted . He told the bench that the city was working to augment its bed capacity and would add 15,000 more beds to meet the surge in the cases in mid May predicted by experts; however, they do not have sufficient oxygen.

“I will place it now and my instructions are from the top of the bureaucracy. They (Centre) are skirting the oxygen supply (issue). As a state government we are being put in the dock but the Centre has miserably failed the people of the country... Some responsibility should be fixed. Only paper orders have been passed. This is not oxygen in air, it’s oxygen in cylinders. Except giving sermons, the Centre has not done anything. There is complete apathy for the people of Delhi. We cannot be mute spectators just because they are the Centre,” Mehra argued.

Solicitor General Mehta, justifying the allocation plan, said the Centre is making all possible efforts to augment the supply and claimed the current supply is sufficient to meet current needs. He said that oxygen has not reached Delhi because the Union territory has been facing difficulty in picking the allocated amount to them.

He said that the national allocation plan should not be touched by the court because several factors have been taken into consideration while deciding. He also justified that Maharashtra has been given more oxygen because of the raging pandemic, while Madhya Pradesh’s population is three times that of the Capital..

Maharashtra had 675,451 active cases as on Wednesday night, but Madhya Pradesh only 92,773, and Delhi over 100,000.

“Suppose there is a huge, unprecedented surge tomorrow, which nobody can anticipate… I do not want to create panic… then the situation would be different. The Delhi government did demand 700 MT. For me, a Delhi citizen is as dear and important as a Kerala citizen. They did demand 700. Allocation is 480-490, the actual quantity coming to Delhi 335-340 which according to our assessment is sufficient,” Mehta submitted before the court.

“Delhi is facing difficulty because it has not been able to pick up the allocated amount.. 90% of our time is going out firefighting for Delhi. There are transport and logistical issues,” he said. “No resources are unlimited and we are augmenting. There can be lapses but those could be rectified.”

During the hearing, an agitated Mehta told a senior officer of the Centre, “You cut from MP and give it to Delhi. It would be at the cost of some lives in MP but let us do it for Delhi.”

However, the bench objected to this and said, “Don’t give an impression as if we are asking something extra for Delhi. We don’t appreciate this. We are asking this on the basis of facts and figures. You can’t be emotional about it. You have to take this head on, you can’t duck it.”

SG Mehta said that the Centre will file an affidavit on the court’s query and will give the reasons for giving more oxygen to Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

“There are states which received less than what they had asked for. We have been rationalizing,” he said adding that hysteria should not be created and the situation is dynamic”. Earlier this week, Mehta said in court that Delhi was behaving like a “crybaby”.

To this, the bench said the panic is because of lack of resources.

“It’s not because of what judges or lawyers say; panic is on the ground. People are suffering but hospitals are not taking patients. We already had loss of lives in Delhi due to shortage of oxygen. It has fallen on you to resolve this. How you resolve is your problem,” the court said.

The court was hearing a plea by lawyer-petitioner Rakesh Malhotra, who along with several hospitals sought directions to the Centre and the Delhi government for better facilities and continuous supply of oxygen in the hospitals and nursing homes of the city.

In his letter to Goyal, Sisodia said Delhi has been witnessing around 25,000 fresh COVID cases a day and about 10% of the patients require some form of hospitalisation, including oxygen support.

Sisodia said that merely increasing oxygen allocation to Delhi will not do and that the Central government will also have to arrange transportation to bring the same to the national Capital. “It is also our humble request to provide transport infrastructure, including railways and tankers, for the additional allocation since Delhi is a non-industrial state and accordingly, does not have its own infrastructure,” he said. .

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