The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday directed the Centre to increase the daily supply of oxygen to the state to 1,200 metric tonnes. It said this was the minimum requirement of the state that the Centre would have to comply with as many deaths were taking place due to lack of medical oxygen. The court’s direction came while hearing a batch of petitions regarding the pandemic situation in the state.
“We have no option but to issue a mandatory direction to state government to make additional requirement to the government of India for at least one week. Till the consideration is made, we ask the government of India to increase the quota of Karnataka to 1200 metric tonnes per day. Court will consider passing order next week as far as quota is concerned and the counsel will have to communicate this order to the government of India immediately, reason being death of many persons due to lack of availability of oxygen. This is the minimum requirement of state which government of India will have to comply with," said a division bench headed by Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Aravind Kumar.
“The estimation made by the state is not disputed by the Centre, as noted, earlier estimate is of minimum 1,162 metric tonnes as of May 5 based on projection of 3.9 lakh active cases, so it can increase this requirement," the bench said.
The bench asked why did the Centre not create a buffer stock even after a Supreme Court order in this regard. “As of today, the government of India has given no explanation as to why this buffer stock was not created. Some districts in the state have no bottling plant and, hence, cylinders have to be transported from adjoining districts — Chamrajnagar depended wholly on Mysuru district prima facie. Not only has buffer stock not been created but bare minimum requirement has not been fulfilled. Bengaluru is reporting high cases in the last few days. Even bare minimum, if considered, as of May 5 would mean 1,162 metric tonnes, it should be ideally more than 1,792 MTD," the court said.
Oxygen supply to the state on April 30 was 802 MTD which was increased to 865 MTD from May 1. The additional solicitor general, appearing for the Central government, said this quantity has been increased to 965MTD.
The estimated projection of requirement came based on the letter dated April 30 — a written submission by the additional chief secretary of the health department — which said the requirement of oxygen in the state by May 5 would be 1,792 metric tonnes and that 7 per cent of active cases will require oxygen beds and 3 per cent ICU beds. Karnataka has 4,87,288 active COVID-19 cases as of May 5 of which 34,110 cases would require oxygen beds and 14,618 would require ICU beds.
In Bengaluru, there are 3,13,314 active cases as of May 5. Of this, 21,931 require oxygen beds and 9,399 require ICU beds. However, the city has less than 2,000 beds available, including general, HDU and ICU beds. The requirement is only seeing a steady rise as the state is currently reporting between 40,000 to 50,000 new cases every day. Bengaluru alone is reporting about 20,000 cases a day.
The high court also asked what was the mechanism in place for hospitals to procure oxygen when they run out of it. The state counsel said the only option was to reach out to them and that there was no alternative. Same is the case with bed availability where a person would be allotted by the civic body. The court next asked what would a patient do when their oxygen levels drop before they are allotted a bed and ordered the state to come up with a mechanism for both during the next hearing.
The court also took note of the death of 24 patients in Chamrajnagar within a span of 24 hours, allegedly due to oxygen shortage and asked the chief secretary to seize all records of the hospital.