‘We’re doomed’: Delhi high court slams central govt on supplies

ByRicha Banka, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Apr 21, 2021 01:27 AM IST

The court asked the Centre as to why government was waiting till April 22 to implement the order “when the needy are dying due to the shortage of oxygen”.

In a slew of directions to the Centre on Tuesday amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic, the Delhi high court on Tuesday directed immediate implementation of an order to stop oxygen for industrial use to meet the demand by hospitals, ramping up of medicine supplies and vaccinating more people.

A patient holds his oxygen mask as he suffers from Covid-19 inside a temporary converted isolation ward. (ANI Photo)
A patient holds his oxygen mask as he suffers from Covid-19 inside a temporary converted isolation ward. (ANI Photo)

A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said that economic interests cannot override human lives and in wake of the hospitals running low on oxygen. The bench directed the Centre to “forthwith” implement its order, which was to come into force from April 22, to prohibit the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes, except for those that fall in the exempted category.

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The court asked the Centre as to why government was waiting till April 22 to implement the order “when the needy are dying due to the shortage of oxygen”.

“Economic interest cannot over right the supplies. Otherwise we are heading for a much bigger disaster. The exempted ones can consider on cutting down their supply, maybe shut down a part. A large population is not infected and we have to save it. We may lose a crore people in the country if we don’t act in time,” the high court said.

“The need for oxygen is now. Any delay in this regard will lead to loss of precious lives. We direct the Centre to implement this decision forthwith and make oxygen available to needy hospitals which are running out of their supply,” the bench said in its order.

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The court observed that even if some industries have to cut production, they can do so, for saving lives. “Shortage is now. You have to do it (ban) now. Look into taking some oxygen from steel and petroleum industries. They have big pockets and big lobbies, but tell them if they have to cut production, then they can cut production. Lives have to be saved,” the bench said during the 3-hour-long hearing on a plea by advocate Rakesh Malhotra, who sought ramping up of tests in the city.

The court asked the Centre to meet the representatives of the steel and petrochemical industries and issue an appropriate order to divert a portion of their oxygen for medical needs for a period to tide over the prevailing pandemic.

The petition, which was disposed of already, was revived by the HC on Monday, noting that the virus has raised its “ugly head” once again and that the “healthcare infrastructure is at the stage of imminent collapse”.

Ramp up medicine supplies

Taking note of the shortage of various life saving drugs amid the raging pandemic, the court on Tuesday asked the Centre to speak to the drug manufacturing companies and ask them to ramp up their production on “war footing”. It asked the centre to dynamically review the supply of Remdesivir injection and other medicines required.

“Centre should dynamically review the needs for the supply of the reserve. This is essential to maximise the life saving drug. … Centre is directed to interact with the license holders and forthwith ramp up the production capacities,” the bench said, adding that action can be taken against the violators under the Drug Control Act.

“Ramp up production on war footing….Encourage to grant voluntary licenses. If such efforts do not fructify, the government should not hesitate to invoke the jurisdiction power since the lives of the people which are being lost at a fast rate in the country take priority over everything else. Even as such powers are used, the manufacturers can be compensated by paying fair license fee,” the court said.

Representing the Delhi government, senior advocate Rahul Mehra said that the hospitals in the capital were facing major shortage of oxygen. Mehra said that despite the court’s direction on Monday to M/s Inox, a private oxygen supplier, for giving 140 metric tonnes of oxygen to Delhi as agreed, not even a bit of it has been given to the city.

The petitioner, Rakesh Malhotra, told the court that Gangaram Hospital, which is a dedicated Covid hospital is reportedly having acute shortage with supplies left for just a few hours.

Nipun Vinayak, joint secretary, ministry of health and family welfare, told the court that according to a formula devised by the experts 378 metric tonne oxygen is being given to the Delhi. Mehra said that a law and order situation will be created in Uttar Pradesh if the oxygen is diverted to the national capital.

The court, while taking note of this, issued a notice to M/S Inox and directed its MD to appear before the court on the next date of hearing. It also issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh government and posted the matter for hearing on April 22. Inox is the main supplier of oxygen to Delhi.

Stop wastage, vaccinate more

During the hearing, the court also expressed serious concerns about wastage of Covid-19 vaccines, and stressed on the need to vaccinate more and more people. It asked the Centre and the Delhi government to see if it is possible for it to devise ways and means to select volunteers below the age of 45, who could be called to take the vaccine from the doses that are left after opening a vial.

The court noted that a vial of vaccines have 10 doses and with the current scenario, vaccines are being wasted and not being utilised. Quoting a news report, it said that 44 lakh doses had to be thrown in the dustbin out of the 10 crore allocated to the states.

“If we wait for 10 days, the problem may persist. We are losing valuable and young lives. The pandemic does not discriminate. Whosoever needs vaccines, give them. Everyone needs vaccination.”

“In our view, wastage of a single vaccine is a criminal waste. The governments would look into the situation for full utilisation of the vaccine. Both governments to see whether it is possible for the governments devise ways and means for selecting volunteers below the age of 45 who could be called to take the vaccine in which the doses are left so they are fully utilised. This facility is available in the US,” Justice Sanghi said.

Simplify testing

The bench also said that immediate action needs to be taken by the Centre to ramp up testing by simplifying the process. It said the current practice of mandatory filling a form despite the Aadhaar card of the individual being provided, is a waste of time and should be done away with.

It also said that the officers should be sensitised and there should be urgency in completing work and giving clearances for setting up of new lab equipment.

“We are informed that the equipment for setting RT-PCR test labs are imported...It is essential that all such medical equipment and other things should be cleared at top priority to the government.”

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