The Supreme Court today refused to interfere with the Karnataka High Court order directing the Central government to immediately increase the allocation of oxygen to the State to 1,200 metric tonne (MT) per day amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah passed the order in the appeal by the Central government challenging the Karnataka High Court order of May 5.
“The order of the High Court is based on the need to maintain at least a minimum requirement as projected by the State Government until a decision on the representation is taken and the High Court is apprised. Hence, without enquiring into the wider issues sought to be raised at this stage (and keeping them open) there is no reason to entertain the Special Leave Petition,” the order reads.
When today’s hearing began, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Bench that if High Courts pass such orders, it will be “unworkable”. In response, Justice Chandrachud said,
“We have read the order and we know the sequence of events. We will say it is a well-calibrated and thought out order.”
Even as SG Mehta failed to convince the Court that it should interfere, the Bench said,
“We will not interfere with this today. It is a well-considered exercise of power by the High Court. If it was a breach of executive power etc., then we would have considered.”
SG Mehta nevertheless submitted,
“This leaves room for every High Court to start examining and allocating oxygen…please order that this be not treated as a precedent.”
However, Justice Chandrachud responded,
“We are looking at a wider issue. We will not keep the citizens of Karnataka in the lurch in the meanwhile.”
In its appeal before the apex court, the Central government submitted that the High Court failed to consider the rationale behind allocation of certain amounts of oxygen to each State.
“…[the High Court] purely on the basis of purported shortage in the city of Bangalore, passed directions which, if fulfilled, will have a cascading effect and result in the total collapse of the system in its fight against the ongoing second wave of COVID-19 Coronavirus,” the petition said.
On May 5, a Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Aravind Kumar of the High Court had noted that the required quantity of oxygen was not being allotted by the Centre to the State amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Referring to an incident at a COVID-19 facility in Chamarajanagar district where 24 people died due to shortage of oxygen, the High Court had said,
“Perhaps, if buffer stock of oxygen was there, the Chamarajanagar incident would not have happened.”
The Bench went on to note that the Government of India has offered no explanation as to why buffer stock (of oxygen) is not there in Karnataka despite the Supreme Court’s directions.
Ultimately, the High Court went on to direct the Central government to increase the allocation of oxygen to Karnataka.
The plea by Centre stated that the High Court order “would ultimately lead to mismanagement of resources and create a further chaotic environment in an already overburdened system”.