Covid crisis: Supreme Court asks Centre to submit action plan to supply 700 MT oxygen to Delhi

It stressed that methodology, planning and proper distribution and actual availability and procurement of the oxygen are the main concerns.

The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday asked the Centre to inform it by Thursday morning as to how it is going to comply with its April 30 order that asked union the government to ensure 700 MT of medical oxygen for Delhi. The apex court stayed the contempt notice issued by the Delhi High Court on Tuesday against the central government officers for failing to comply with its directive to ensure that 700 mt of oxygen was supplied to hospitals in Delhi which are reeling under a severe shortage.

“We direct that by 10.30 am tomorrow (Thursday), the Centre shall place a comprehensive plan in the form of a chart, indicating the manner in which the direction for allocation of 700 metric tonnes shall be complied with. Sources of supply, position of transport and other logistical requirements are necessary,” a Special Bench comprising justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

“Some study must be there on procurement, supply and allocation. You have to come with a comprehensive plan on this,” Justice Shah said.

While staying the Delhi HC order, the SC noted :“Putting officers in jail is not going to bring oxygen to the city, let us ensure lives are saved…We do not want contempt proceedings. We want action on the ground,” the judges said while hearing an urgent appeal filed by the Centre’s against HC’s order on Tuesday.

“When country is facing humanitarian crisis, the court must aim at problem solving… No one can dispute that some people have died to oxygen shortage and that it is a national emergency. What is the plan?” the apex court asked the SG, who claimed that Delhi can manage with 550 MT.

The judges disagreed, saying its orders on April 30 were for supplying 700 MT and that the 550 MT that the city was getting now won’t solve the problem. “As an institution, we can’t accept that. We ourselves have ordered you to supply 700 MT. We can’t go back on that. We are answerable to the citizens,” Justice Chandrachud said, asking the Central government to ensure oxygen from elsewhere in the country reaches Delhi smoothly.

“The oxygen must reach hospital and common people. None can dispute that people are dying of oxygen. You tell us what are you doing in this regard. You rightly said that there is some failure and some exercise has to be done. But when is the same to be done?,” the Bench asked the Centre.

The Supreme Court also suggested both the Centre and Delhi government to study how the oxygen shortage problem was being addressed in Mumbai and if possible have a meeting with Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation chief on the issue. It asked the Centre and Delhi officers to study and follow the Mumbai model to deal with the situation. “We had indicated creating a buffer stock. If this can be done in Mumbai, which is thickly populated, it can certainly be done in Delhi,” Justice Chandrachud said while recommending that the Chief Secretary of the Union Health Ministry should speak with the Mumbai Municipal Commissioner.

It further noted that even with 92,000 active Covid cases, Mumbai was able to manage with 275 MT with optimal institutional mechanism.

The Bench also said that there must be some scientific basis to ascertain the requirement of oxygen by States on a real time basis. It stressed that methodology, planning and proper distribution and actual availability and procurement of the oxygen are the main concerns.

The top court also noted that even though the Delhi High Court is handling the oxygen shortage problem, it can not be oblivious to supply of oxygen to it. The SC will continue to hear the case on Thursday.

It also authorised the UoI to continue importing oxygen without any tenders. The Central government officer told the Bench that production of oxygen was not the problem, but shortage of containers is. “We have a lot of stock in oxygen but to have smooth flow, we need to augment the system of transportation. Supplies from Gujarat are also being allocated to Delhi,” he argued.

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