Won’t put lives at risk: SC rejects Centre plea
The Supreme Court on Friday said it “will not put the people of Karnataka in the lurch”, and turned down a plea by the central government seeking a stay on a Karnataka high court order that directed it to immediately increase the supply of medical oxygen to the state from 962 metric tonnes (MT) per day to 1,200 MT per day.
Karnataka had more than 536,641 active Covid-19 cases till Friday, and its medical infrastructure has been struggling handle the spike in the ongoing second wave of infections.
“It is a well-calibrated and judicious exercise of power by the high court. It is not an arbitrary order but based on adequate reasons. The high court order is a well-considered order... We will not keep the people of Karnataka in the lurch by interfering with this order,” a bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and MR Shah told the Central government, represented through solicitor general Tushar Mehta.
Discomfited by the remarks of the bench, Mehta retorted that the Centre was willing to “walk out” of the oxygen allocation process if the high courts were willing to decide the quantity of oxygen each state should get. “We are willing to give the entire quantity of oxygen to the high courts. Let high courts distribute it. We will be out,” said the SG.
The bench, however, replied: “That may not be the correct attitude. We understand the issues involved and we are constituting a committee that will go into the criteria of allocation. But that does not mean that our high courts will shut their eyes... and will not say anything even if people are suffering.”
At this, Mehta sought to persuade the bench not to record statements in the court order on the quantity of oxygen demanded by the Karnataka since the Union government was going to resolve it through talks. He also urged the bench to add that the Karnataka high court order should not act as a precedent for other high courts to also start passing order on allocation of oxygen by Centre to the respective states.
But the bench told Mehta that the high court order was based on the norms laid down by the Centre’s own expert committee on the requirement of oxygen on the basis of active cases and the number of beds available. “You may have difficulty in procuring the oxygen but the 1,162 MT per day is the requirement of Karnataka based on your own norms,” it told the SG.
In its order, the bench recorded that while the allocation was increased to 856 MT to 965 MTs from May 5, the minimum requirement of the state, as projected by the state government on May 5 was 1162 MT per day.
“The order of the High Court is based on the need to maintain at least a minimum requirement as projected by the state government until a decision on the representation is not taken. Hence, without enquiring into the wider issues sought to be raised at this stage (and keeping them open) there is no reason to entertain the special leave petition,” the order stated.
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It added that the high court has furnished adequate reasons for issuing a calibrated ad-interim (temporary) direction without precluding a mutual resolution by the Centre and Karnataka government.
On May 5, the high court, while hearing a public interest litigation by Mohammed Arif Jameel, recorded a statement of Karnataka’s additional chief secretary that the requirement of oxygen in the state was likely to go up to 1,792 MT by May 5, and directed the state government to submit a representation to the Centre in this regard. It further ordered that till this representation was considered, the Centre will supply 1,200 MT of oxygen per day to the state.
Challenging this order before the top court, the Centre said that such a direction by the high court will “have a cascading effect and result in the total collapse of the system” in its fight against the ongoing second wave of the coronavirus disease.
“I welcome the Supreme Court order and it is a good thing for Karnataka. If we get 1200 mt, then we can comfortably manage the situation,” Jagadish Shettar, Karnataka’s minister for large and medium industries said. He said that the number of cases is increasing and , we would need 1700 mt of oxygen.