Anguished by the deaths of COVID-19 patients, including a doctor, at the Batra Hospital in New Delhi due to a shortage of oxygen, the Delhi high court directed the Centre on Saturday to ensure that the national capital receives its allocated share of 490 metric tonnes of the life-saving gas during the day and said "enough is enough", "much water has gone above the head".
A bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said the Centre has to ensure that Delhi receives its allocated amount of oxygen "by whatever means" and warned that a failure to do so could lead to contempt action.
The bench, which held a four-hour-long special hearing on a holiday with regard to the oxygen crisis and other COVID-19 related issues that the city is grappling with, also directed that the senior officers concerned be present before it on the next date of hearing on Monday if the allocated oxygen is not received by Delhi by the end of the day.
"We direct the central government to ensure that the NCT of Delhi receives its allocated supply of 490 MT positively today by whatever means.
“Considering the fact that Delhi is not an industrial state and does not have availability of cryogenic tankers of its own, which could be requisitioned under the Disaster Management Act like other states have done, it falls upon the central government to arrange the tankers as well, so that the allocation made to Delhi could be fulfilled, lest it remains only a paper allocation. The central government shall ensure availability of cryogenic tankers as well for the said supply," the bench said.
It also noted that since April 20, the entire allocated quota of 480 MT oxygen and thereafter, 490 MT has not been delivered to Delhi even on a single day.
"Looking at the situation, we make it clear that we may even consider initiating contempt proceedings in case of non-compliance. Amit Mahajan shall ensure the communication of this order to the officers concerned forthwith," it said.
When Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma urged the bench to defer its order till May 3 or by half an hour, especially the warning about initiating contempt proceedings, it declined to accept his request and said, "Much water has gone above the head. Now we mean business. Enough is enough."
"You (Centre) made an allocation, you fulfill it. Do you mean we will shut our eyes to people dying in Delhi? Enough is enough now. Who is asking for a gram more of oxygen than is allocated? If you cannot supply, do not supply. We will see your explanation on Monday," it added.
"This is a new way of arguing -- telling us do not do this, do not do that. We do not appreciate it. We know what to do," the court said in response to the ASG's repeated requests to defer the contempt aspect of the order.
The ASG said Solicitor General Tushar Mehta would inform the court on Monday about the oxygen allocation and supply to Delhi.
The court, however, said the issue on which the SG would be informing the bench was related to the increased allocation of oxygen to Delhi.
"We have passed the order. You comply with the order," an anguished Justice Sanghi said and logged off from the proceedings.
The court issued the directions in view of the deaths in the Batra Hospital due to an oxygen shortage as well as the concerns expressed by Delhi government officials with regard to their inability to address SOS calls for oxygen from several other hospitals as its reserves of the life-saving gas are exhausted.
Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, representing Delhi government, also told the court that some of the suppliers -- Linde, INOX and Air Liquide -- are either not supplying the oxygen they are supposed to or providing it in lesser amounts.
The court directed the lawyers of these suppliers to be present on the next date of hearing.
It also directed the Centre to ensure that the oxygen that Linde has to provide to Delhi hospitals in accordance with the Centre's allocation plan reaches the facilities.
The bench asked the Centre why four cryogenic tankers, which were meant for Delhi to treat COVID-19 patients and held up by the Rajasthan government, were not released yet, despite the court's earlier orders.
It said let the necessary steps be taken to fulfill the assurance given by the SG on April 26 that these tankers will be released and asked the Centre to place a compliance report of its order on Monday.
When the Centre's counsel urged the court to seek an explanation from the Rajasthan government, the bench said, "This is the Centre's problem. The SG made a statement before us. Why should we call the state of Rajasthan? Those four tankers or something in their place has to come. What is the sanctity of these statements?"
The bench also directed the Delhi government to seek the help of the armed forces in getting oxygen and setting up facilities.
It said when the Delhi government is proposing to increase the number of beds with oxygen support by 15,000 and that of ICU beds by 1,200 by mid-May and it is dependent on an increased oxygen allocation and supply to the national capital, help of the armed forces should be sought.
It asked Mehra why nothing has been done till now when the court asked it two-three days ago to seek the help of the armed forces.
"It can be a collaborative effort with the Army," the bench said. Mehra told the court that he would get back to it on the issue.