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SC warns of coercive action if Delhi’s O2 quota not met

The city is estimated to require at least 700 MT to sustain the critical care patient load and consistently lower supplies have caused several hospitals to reduce the number of beds, officials have said.
By Utkarsh Anand, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAY 08, 2021 01:06 AM IST
A man waits to refill oxygen cylinders for Covid-19 patients at a centre in New Delhi on Friday.(AFP)

The Supreme Court on Friday reproached the central government for not supplying 700 metric tonne (MT) of medical oxygen to Delhi every day, warning it of “coercive steps” if there is any deficit in the future.

The remarks came after the Capital received 527 MT of oxygen on Thursday, lower than the 730 MT is received the day before. The city is estimated to require at least 700 MT to sustain the critical care patient load and consistently lower supplies have caused several hospitals to reduce the number of beds, officials have said.

“We have been very clear that you have to give 700 MT to Delhi every day. We said it in our earlier order and also clarified this yesterday (Thursday). Don’t drive us to a situation where we have to take firm and take coercive steps,” the bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and MR Shah told solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Centre.

The strictures came after senior counsel Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, made an urgent mentioning before the court about shortage of oxygen supply between Thursday and Friday despite the court’s categorical directive that the city must get 700 MT every day till the order is either reviewed or modified. Mehra said Delhi received only 527 MT oxygen by Thursday midnight.

The bench reminded the S-G that it was repeated several times by the court during the proceedings on Thursday that the Centre will have to keep supplying 700 MT to Delhi unless the order is modified.

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“Mr Solicitor, please note that when we say 700MT has to be supplied to Delhi, it does not mean it is only for one day. Tell your officers that it is not acceptable. We clarified yesterday also that till the further orders, you have to supply 700 MT. We made it very clear. Whenever the committee gives its report on allocation, we will see. But you cannot give it only one day to assuage us and say ‘chalo de diya ek din’ (we have given it one day),” it told the law officer.

Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Thursday that Delhi can add 9,000 to 9,500 more beds for Covid-19 patients if the Union government continues to send 700 MT of medical oxygen. In addition to the Supreme Court and the government, the Delhi high court has also asked the Union government to ensure the city gets adequate amount of medical oxygen.

The bench also expressed displeasure at the Centre’s note in the court on Thursday wherein the supply of oxygen to Delhi was conditioned on availability of containers and tankers.

“Yesterday when we saw your affidavit it said oxygen will be supplied but there were caveats and explanation about containers and tankers. We don’t want to get into it. We are not drivers of your containers. We will not get into it at all,” justice Chandrachud remarked.

As the S-G sought to give an explanation, the court retorted that it is being made clear again that the Centre must give 700 MT oxygen to Delhi every day. “We are going to clarify this in our order again. We will see what the committee that we are going to form has to say about your allocation plan but till that time, it has to be 700 MT per day,” it added.

While Delhi received 730 MT oxygen on May 5, the note submitted by the Centre in the court on Thursday also laid down a projection of oxygen supply from May 6 to May 14. The chart, reviewed by HT, shows that Delhi is expected to get 700 MT oxygen only on May 10 and May 14 whereas the quantity will be less on all other days. Moreover, the Centre has maintained that the supply is contingent on availability of containers.

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During the hearing on Thursday, the bench looked at these numbers and told the S-G that it was inclined to set up a committee which will go into the Centre’s oxygen allocation plan that needed a “revamp” for having missed the “most obvious points of considerations” regarding need of the states. It had also said that the Centre must continue supplying 700 MT oxygen to Delhi in the meantime.

On May 2, the top court directed the Union government to ensure 700 MT of medical oxygen is supplied to Delhi every day. On May 5, the bench reiterated its order when the Centre approached it with a plea for suspending the contempt proceedings initiated by the Delhi high court against them over deficit in oxygen supply.

The apex court had stayed the contempt proceedings, but not before clarifying that this is contingent on the Union government’s admission that the court order of May 2 required the Centre to supply 700 MT of oxygen to Delhi until further orders. It had also asked the Centre to submit a plan in the court by Thursday morning detailing how this target would be met, including logistical details, following which the note mentioned above was submitted by the S-G.

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