In view of the alarming unavailability of oxygen in hospitals for COVID-19 patients, the Delhi High Court today directed the Central government to implement the ban on usage of oxygen by the industrial sector forthwith (Rakesh Malhotra vs GNCTD).
A Division Bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said,
“Decision taken by Centre to divert oxygen is to be implemented only from 22nd. We do not find any justification for the same. Need is now. Any delay will lead to loss of precious lives. We direct Centre to implement the decision forthwith and provide the supply to oxygen who are running out.
The direction came to be passed after Justice Palli pointed out that as per an NDTV Report, Sir Ganga Ram hospital only had a few hours of oxygen left with it.
The Court also noted that due to the shortage of oxygen, doctors in the hospital were being forced to keep COVID-19 patients at an oxygen pressure of 82 in order to make it last longer.
Considering that steel and petrochemical industries had been exempted from the ban on oxygen production, the Court called upon the Central government to “seriously consider” issuing appropriate orders to the two sectors to cut down production in order to achieve a balance.
“Petroleum, steel would be the big guzzlers…Economic interest can’t override human lives. We have to understand this. Otherwise, we are heading for a much bigger disaster,” the Court remarked.
The Court thus stated that it expected the Centre to have a meet with all stakeholders so that a “good portion of oxygen” can be diverted for medical needs to tide over the prevailing condition.
During the course of the hearing, as the Delhi government asserted that it needed 700 MT of oxygen supply per day, Joint Secretary in the Union Health Ministry Nipun Vinayak said that as per their calculation, the requirement was of 220 MT oxygen only.
Delhi has nonetheless been given 378 MT oxygen, the official said as he urged that “best practices” around the use of oxygen have to adopt.
“We look at it on a daily basis. Oxygen will continue to be distributed…there may be some misuse, though it is a wrong word. Commercial packaging takes away oxygen from hospitals. Kerala, Madhya Pradesh…they are following guidelines on rational use of oxygen. If a patient has 95 oxygen, and you are giving oxygen (to make him psychologically comfortable), it will do more harm,” the official explained.
The suggestion that hospitals were not optimally utilising oxygen was strongly opposed by Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra who appeared for the Delhi government.
“We seriously contest this…12k beds are in private hospitals. What he’s saying is that private hospitals don’t know when to administer oxygen,” Mehra argued.
The Court, in its order, directed the Central government to review the allocation of oxygen to states in a dynamic manner.
On being told that M/s Inox did not supply oxygen to Delhi in spite of the Court’s order and diverted it to Uttar Pradesh, a notice of contempt was also issued by Court. The presence of the MD/owner of the company has thus been sought on the next date of hearing.
“Inox has not sent a single MT of oxygen. We have been informed that there would be a law and order situation in UP if it is sent to Delhi. Despite an order, there is no supply…this is simply unacceptable,” Mehra said.
The State of Uttar Pradesh, through its Chief Secretary, was also directed to be present before the Court.
The Centre today informed the Court that in order to augment the supply of oxygen, it was going to install 162 Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) plants across India for oxygen production, eight of which would be in Delhi.
In its affidavit, the Central government said that plants were being constructed with the support of the PM Cares Fund.
One of such plants was already operational, the official told the Court.
The matter will be heard next on April 22.