The Uttarakhand High Court on Tuesday raised queries over why the State of Uttarakhand was being forced to obtain its oxygen quota from other States amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when there are three oxygen production units within the State.
The manner in which the oxygen distribution is being carried out presently by the Centre may entail in more time being taken to transport the oxygen and more costs, Chief Justice RS Chauhan orally observed.
“Yesterday it was pointed out by Amit Negi, the irony is that our State has three (oxygen) production units. Yet Uttarakhand is told to keep it for the neighbouring States … We have to pick up our oxygen tanks from Jamshedpur and Jharkhand and another place in West Bengal. As he rightly said, our (State’s) hands are tied,” the Chief Justice pointed out.
“Why can’t Uttarakhand retain its oxygen quota (from the oxygen produced within the State) and share the excess (with other States)?” he asked.
The Court was dealing with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition which raised various prayers pertaining to COVID-19 management in the State (Anu Pant v. State of Uttarakhand and another).
Appearing before the Bench of Chief Justice Chauhan and Justice Alok Verma, advocate Abhijay Negi (for the petitioner) today also raised a grievance that the process of procuring the drug, Tocilizumab has become a punishment for COVID-19 patients.
He informed the Court that the drug is only available at two fixed times of the day, adding that patients who may require it in between are left in the lurch.
However, since the Centre is presently in control when it comes to distributing the drug, the Chief Justice responded that there is not much the State can do.
“We agree with you, it is a very cumbersome procedure … red-tapesim. Since the control is with the Central Government, there is nothing that can be done … what can be done if the central government is unmoved? … Why is it that the central government is taking such a tough stand?” Chief Justice Chauhan remarked.
The Court added that it has asked the competent authorities to be present on May 20, when other COVID-19 related PILs are slated to be taken up. Chief Justice Chauhan observed that the Court would be seeking answers to such anomalies regarding COVID-19 management.
“Let us see what they say on 20th”, Chief Justice Chauhan said.
What measures in place to take care of persons in COVID containment zones?
Advocate Abhijay Negi also highlighted on Tuesday that Non-government organisations (NGOs) which were ensuring that food and other essential supplies reach COVID-19 patients in need were being stopped by the authorities on account of the lockdown in the State.
In light of this concern, the Chief Justice asked Chief Standing Counsel for the State, CS Rawat, to ensure that necessary passes are given by the district administration to such NGOs.
The issue also led the Chief Justice to emphasise that there are several segments of the population which may require special attention amid the ongoing pandemic and lockdown.
“I have also issued directions to DSLA to concentrate on certain segments of society – the elderly, physically challenged, transgender persons, widows in Haridwar – because I don’t know who is looking after them, many of the widows tend to be destitute … these segments are handicapped, they live in the twilight zone, nobody cares about them,” he remarked.
He also emphasised on the need to put in place a government programme to ensure that essential goods reach persons who are locked up in COVID-19 containment zones. In this regard, the Chief Justice pointed out that in Telangana, the government is ensuring the daily distribution of rice, wheat, vegetables, food oils etc. to those in containment zones.
“Whether such a scheme has been created by our govt? I have no idea. We need such a scheme to be created by the government… Please remember, there are diabetics who need daily doses of insulin. They can live without medicines,” the Chief Justice observed.
Similarly, persons who are HIV positive or have conditions such as blood pressure would also need medicines to injections and it is the duty of the administration to ensure that such supplies reach those in need, the Court said.
Ensure Oxygen shops remain open during lockdown: Court
Another issue raised was that oxygen shops were closing at 7 pm owing to the lockdown, while patients in need may see their oxygen levels dropping later in the night.
“Mr Rawat, these oxygen shops are not under essential services?”, the Chief Justice queried.
Rawat informed that they have been declared as essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic. He added that mobile oxygen shops are generally functioning between 7 am and 10 pm. The Court, in turn, asked the State to ensure that this is communicated clearly to the oxygen shop owners.
“Double-check… there may be some confusion in the minds of the shopkeepers… many things may be stated on paper, but not translated to reality in the outside world,” the Chief Justice said.
The matter will be taken up next on May 20, along with other COVID-19 related matters.