The Delhi High Court on Monday pulled up the Centre for its failure to meet the assurance with regard to the supply of 700MT per day liquid medical oxygen to the Delhi Government in line with the directions passed by the Supreme Court.
A division bench comprising Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli has directed the presence of Central Government officers Sumita Dawra and Piyush Goyal, who are handling oxygen allocation to states, tomorrow, to explain the failure to comply with the High Court and Supreme Court's order to supply the required oxygen to the Delhi Government to treat critical COVID patients.
"We direct Central government to show cause why contempt action should not be taken for non-compliance of our order of May 1 and Supreme Court order..", the bench ordered.
The Supreme Court, in an order passed on April 30, had directed the Central Government to rectify the oxygen deficit of NCT of Delhi on or before the midnight of May 3. The direction was passed based on an assurance of the Solicitor General that the oxygen needs of Delhi will be met.
The Delhi High Court had also passed a similar order in an emergency sitting held on Saturday, May 1.
Asking the Centre "Are you living in ivory towers? Where are you living", the bench remarked thus:
"What you're saying is that because Delhi Government didn't raise the demand people should be allowed to die now? Is this what it's come to? You want to quibble while people are losing lives?"
On Oxygen Supply and Shortage of Oxygen Tankers
During the course of hearing, Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra appearing on behalf of the GNCTD apprised the Bench that the Centre has to manage not only the issue of oxygen supply but also regarding the tankers also.
"We are not only an oxygen surplus country but also a tanker surplus country", argued Mehra.
Hearing the aforesaid submission, the Bench pointed out that it was the responsibility of the Centre to provide 700 MT of oxygen supply and that in case of any failure, it will be held for contempt.
In view of this, certain issues with regard to allocation of oxygen supply and connected concerns were flagged by the amicus curiae Senior Advocate Rajshekhar Rao.
"Delhi is allocated 30 MT from India Glycols, Kashipur. But it's not getting this, and can never get it. A plant in Dehradun faces 6 hrs power cut everyday because of which production dips. So despite the allocation we are looking at many real-time issues. Beyond a point noone can be blamed. So what we need to do is augment supply. Because if 590 MT is allocated, 490 will perhaps be supplied", Rao submitted.
In view of this, Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma informed the Court that 12 new tankers have been provided to Delhi yesterday and that there were suppliers present on the war room group.
At this juncture, the Court directed Rao to file a report on the issues in the post lunch hearing session.
During the course of hearing, the Bench questioned the Centre over the compliance with 700 MT oxygen for Delhi. To this, ASG Sharma, agreeing that the same is substantial, said that he had no instructions regarding it at the moment. He also informed the Court that a report will be filed by the Centre in the Apex Court on the issue.
"Please don't tell us that it's a Supreme Court order so you'll show a report to them. You are bound by our order. Just because we told the officers that contempt is the last thing on our mind, doesn't mean it's not there. Just like SC passed an order, we too passed an order. Contempt may be the last thing but it's very much there. Enough is enough, we mean business." The Bench remarked.
Furthermore, remarking "Are you living in ivory towers? Where are you living?", the Bench asked the Centre thus:
"What you're saying is that because Delhi Govt didn't raise the demand people should be allowed to die now? Is this what it's come to? You want to quibble while people are losing lives?"
Disagreeing to the submission of the Centre that the Supreme Court had not directed 700MT of oxygen to be delivered, the Bench took note of the fact that the affidavit is being filed by the Centre in the Apex Court tomorrow.
"Just like SC passed an order, we too passed an order. Contempt may be the last thing but it's very much there. Enough is enough, we mean business. Please come to Para 29(of SC order), it says 700 MT - very specific direction", the bench asserted that the Supreme Court order had mentioned that the daily need of Delhi was 700 MT.
Stating that the Centre has failed to meet its assurance, the Bench observed thus:
"We reject the submission of Mr. Sharma and Ms. Bhati that GNCTD is not entitled to receive 700 MT of oxygen per day in light of the existing medical infrastructure. It pains us that this issue should be viewed the way it's been done by the Central Govt."
The Bench therefore directed the presence of Central Government officers Mr. Piyush Goyal and Ms.Sumita Dawra before the Court tomorrow.
On Army Deployment and Delhi Government's Request Seeking Support of Armed Forces
Senior Advocate Krishnan Venugopal apprised the Bench that the Centre's response on Delhi Government's Request seeking armed forces help in creating additional COVID facilites was still awaited.
"This is the exact situation in which the Army is expected to be deployed. Even if they can tell us they will help, in principle, and seek time to analyze the situation." Venugopal submitted.
In view of this, ASG Sharma responded thus:
"We have escalated the matter and it's being looked into. Once Army is requisitioned, it's not just requisitioning. Infrastructure and other facilities also need to be made available."
At this juncture, the Court asked ASG Sharma to inform reasons in case there are any for not deploying the army in dealing with the issue.
On Misinformation, Lack of Covid Related Information Available to the Public and Sister Concerns
During the course of hearing post in the post lunch session, the Court observed that Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) must take steps to increase social awareness with respect to the misinformation and lack of information available with the public at large in connection with covid 19 pandemic.
"You need to educate people what to expect when. Even after Covid-19 it's a very dangerous stage. The protocol regarding Covid-19 must be circulated amongst all", the Bench observed.
At this stage, Amicus Curiae Rao said that people must not indulge in hoarding of oxygen cylinders. Moreover, he also suggested that media channels also need to report such issues and that Government channels can be used to disseminate misinformation.
While ASG Sharma apprised the Bench that the AIIMS-ICMR protocol may be translated into vernacular, Mehra suggested that AIIMS Director, Dr. Guleria's videos can be put on the website in order to provide information to the public.
"Almost everyday there is a press conference of the Delhi Chief Minister, we will take it forward. The amicus' point is well taken." Mehra stated.
In view of this, ASG Sharma also went ahead to suggest that Mohalla Clinics may come in very handy at this time and should be used for Covid testing.
Responding to the aforesaid submission, Mehra stated that while the clinics are world class, they are currently used for free Non-Covid testing, and due to the size, wouldn't be able to provide for social distancing.
While telling Mehra that it was in fact the time to "stand up" for the Delhi Government, the Bench asked what use are Mohalla Clinics if they can't be used in the present Covid times.
On the issue of medications, Senior Advocate Venugopal submitted that steroids, though the only known drug to work, must be resorted to on prescription only and that Remdesivir does not reduce mortality.
At this juncture, the Bench suggested that a mobile app may be developed where people can upload particulars and a pool of doctors can give consultations to covid patients.Edited by Nupur Thapliyal