New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Thursday observed that the COVID-19 situation in the national capital has turned “precarious” with many hospitals running out of oxygen and directed the Centre to ensure the gas is supplied to the city as per the planned allocation and without any hindrances.
"We all know that this country is being run by god," observed an anguish bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli, which was of the view that all measures should be taken for removing obstructions in the transportation of oxygen.
If the government wants it can do anything and can even make “heaven meet earth,” it said.
The high court directed all the authorities concerned, which are bound by the order passed under the Disaster Management Act, to ensure strict compliance of the Centre’s direction that there shall be no restriction on inter-State and intra-State movement of persons and goods, including medical oxygen.
The bench made it clear that non-compliance of the order will be viewed seriously since it is going to result in grave loss of lives and will invite criminal action.
“We also direct all the authorities concerned who are bound by the order passed under the Disaster Management Act to ensure strict compliance.
“We also direct the Central Government to ensure allocation of oxygen takes place as planned and transportation of the tankers takes place unhindered,” the bench said and added that they shudder to think what will be the condition in other states.
It also directed that adequate security be provided to lorries transporting oxygen so that they move without obstructions and dedicated corridors be made for transportation of oxygen to hospitals.
The court was informed by the Centre that the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued an order to all the states and union territories to ensure that no restriction shall be imposed on the movement of medical oxygen between the states and transport authorities shall be instructed to accordingly allow free inter-State movement of oxygen carrying vehicles.
The ministry ordered that no restrictions shall be imposed on oxygen manufacturers and suppliers to limit the oxygen supplies only to the hospitals of the State or UT in which they are located.
The direction came after the Delhi government told the court that the amount of oxygen that was to come here from Panipat in Haryana was not being allowed to be picked up by the local police there.
The high court said the Centre's allocation of oxygen for Delhi from plants in other states like Haryana was not being respected by the local administration there and it needs to be resolved immediately.
Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, also told the court that oxygen which was to be picked up from some units in Uttar Pradesh could also be not lifted from there.
With regard to Delhi government's suggestion to transport oxygen by air, the bench said research by its legal researchers has shown that airlifting of oxygen was very dangerous and it has to be transported either by road or rail.
Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, told the bench "If there is any roadblock by any individuals or any officers, the officers have been instructed that if they are involved in any such activity they will be departmentally dealt with".
He said if individuals are involved, then protection would be provided to ensure the commitments are met.
"We must respond with a sense of urgency and sense of responsibility which the situation demands," the SG said.
During the hearing, Mehta informed the court that the Supreme Court has taken suo motu cognisance of the prevailing grim situation of COVID-19 pandemic across the country.
He said the apex court wants a “national plan” on issues including supply of oxygen and essential drugs for treatment of patients infected with the virus.
He also said the apex court has also agreed to hear Vedanta's plea for opening of its Sterlite copper unit at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu on the ground that it would produce thousand tonnes of oxygen only for medical purpose and will give it free of cost to the Centre to treat COVID-19 patients.
The bench, while dictating its order, said “the position in Delhi has turned rather precarious with several hospitals reporting that either they have insufficient oxygen or will not last for longer period.”
The high court had on Wednesday evening issued strong strictures against the Central government and private industries and had ordered the Centre to "forthwith" provide oxygen by whatever means to hospitals here facing shortage of the gas in treating serious COVID-19 patients, observing it “seems human life is not important for the state”.
"You are not exploring all avenues to augment oxygen supply. Beg, borrow or steal," the court had told the Centre, and asked why it was not waking up to the gravity of the emergency situation. It also warned that certainly all hell will break loose with the stoppage of medical oxygen to the hospitals.
The observations and directions by the court came on Wednesday during hearing of a plea filed by Balaji Medical and Research Centre, which owns and runs various hospitals in the name of Max, contending that if supply of oxygen is not replenished on an immediate basis, the lives of the patients who are critical, would be in danger.