The Delhi high court on Tuesday said that economic interests cannot override human lives and in view of various hospitals in the national capital running low on oxygen, the Centre should immediately implement the ban on industrial use of oxygen instead of waiting till April 22.
A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said oxygen supply of various hospitals will run out in 4-8 hours and in such a situation there was no justification in implementing the ban from April 22 as the need was now.
The court directed the Centre to forthwith implement the ban and divert the oxygen to hospitals running out of the same as any further delay will lead to loss of precious lives.
The court also issued notice to INOX, which produces oxygen, as to why contempt action be not initiated against it for not complying with court orders to supply oxygen and directed the presence of the company's managing director on the next date of hearing on April 22.
The court also sought the presence of the Uttar Pradesh government on the next date.
The direction came after senior advocate Rahul Mehra told the bench that INOX did not supply oxygen as directed by the court claiming that doing so would lead to a law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh from where the supply was to come.
The court in its order also directed the Centre to issue appropriate orders and also meet the representatives of the steel and petrochemical industries to divert some portion of their oxygen for medical needs for a period to tide over the prevailing pandemic.
The court said these industries can reduce their production for now and if the lockdown continues then everything would come to a halt and therefore, what would be the need for steel, petrol and diesel during such a situation.
"During lockdown, what would be the development," the court said and asked the Centre why it was waiting till April 22 to ban industrial use of oxygen.
"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.
The court cited the example of a central government counsel whose father was admitted in hospital and was on oxygen support, but due its scarcity, oxygen was being provided at a reduced pressure to him to conserve it.
"Can you ask him to hold on till April 22," the court asked.
It said if nothing was done, then "we are heading for a bigger disaster".
"We might end up losing nearly a crore of people. Are we willing to accept that," the bench said.
It also suggested increasing the Covid beds in hospitals which have their own oxygen generating capacity.
The observations by the bench came after perusing the Centre's affidavit which said there was presently no gap in oxygen supply to Delhi and that industrial use of oxygen was banned with effect from April 22.
The ministry of health, represented by Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, told the high court that there has been an inordinate increase of 133 per cent in the projected medical oxygen required, as on April 20, between the initial estimate of 300 metric tonnes and revised estimate of 700 metric tonnes submitted by Delhi.
The ministry said all the states, including Delhi, have to rationalise the use of oxygen and prohibit abnormal usage and administering oxygen to the patients who do not clinically require the same.
"States have to undertake oxygen consumption monitoring in hospitals including private hospitals and to undertake facility-wise/hospital-wise oxygen inventory mapping and advance planning for timely replenishment so that supply can be efficiently managed," it said.
It said that states of Kerala and Madhya Pradesh have come out with simple guidelines to efficiently manage use of oxygen in view of its scarcity.
Earlier in the day, the court had asked the Centre whether oxygen supplied to industries can be diverted for Covid-19 patients.
"Industries can wait. Patients cannot. Human lives are at stake," the bench said.
It said it has heard that doctors at Ganga Ram Hospital were being forced to reduce oxygen being given to Covid-19 patients admitted there as there was scarcity of oxygen.
The ministry, in the affidavit filed through central government standing counsel Monika Arora, has also said that in order to increase the capacity of medical oxygen in Delhi, eight Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) Oxygen Generation plants are being installed by the support of PM CARES Funds.
"These plants would enhance capacity of medical oxygen by 14.4 metric tonnes," the ministry's affidavit said.
The observations by the bench came during the hearing of a disposed of petition related to Covid-19 tests and the high court revived it on April 19 by noting that the virus has raised its "ugly head" once again and the pandemic is raging with much greater intensity and "it is evident that the healthcare infrastructure is at the stage of imminent collapse".