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Prepare for Third Wave, We Need Buffer Oxygen Stock Pan-India: SC Tells Centre

Image for representation

Image for representation

The apex court gave the Centre a 10:30 am deadline for Thursday over the oxygen crisis.

The Supreme Court, hearing the case on supply of oxygen to Delhi, on Thursday asked the Centre to revamp its formula for distribution of oxygen across the country. The court suggested that the Centre adopt a pan-India approach so that they can prepare for the third wave of coronavirus. It asked the Centre to look at the oxygen audit and reassess the basis for allocation as the third stage of the pandemic might be different from the first two. “But, if we prepare today, we will be able to handle stage 3…. A buffer stock needs to be created," Justice DY Chandrachud told the Centre.

Amid the ongoing oxygen crisis, the Supreme Court heard the Centre’s plan as to how it will increase supply of medical oxygen to 700 MT daily for COVID-19 patients in Delhi. The Centre informed the top court that it has complied with its order and instead of 700 MT oxygen, it ensured a supply of 730 MT to Delhi for treating COVID-19 patients. It also said that a survey has revealed that Delhi hospitals have significant stock of oxygen.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Union government, said a large quantity of oxygen has been supplied to Delhi but unloading is taking time in the national capital. “All the major hospitals that use LMO are included in the survey. Significant stocks available with hospital is there. Large quantities, which reached Delhi yesterday, have not been distributed," he said.

“Unloading is taking too long from Delhi. Tankers need to be unloaded so that they can go back to eastern corridor to replenish the stock. Two Oxygen Express trains are reaching Delhi today. Other two trains with 63 MT are also coming. 126 MT of oxygen in ISO container is being brought from Durgapur too," Bar & Bench quoted him as saying

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“There can be lacunae in the State’s allocation as well. I am not accusing. It could be the system. The failure could be party State and partly Centre… If there is allocation of 700, but it is found to be 400 if distributed well, then I will be answerable to other States," said Mehta.

Mehta further contended that if the Centre has to continue providing large quantity of oxygen to Delhi, it will be at the cost of other states’ share. “In case we continue to supply Delhi beyond rationale, it will deprive other states of equitable distribution. The expression of 700 MT oxygen demand is not correct one," he said.

Responding to the Centre’s plan, Justice DY Chandrachud said, “The formula that you have used requires complete revamp. When you made the formula, not everyone who went the hospital required an oxygen bed, not everyone required ICU or ventilator. There are many who have been asked to stay at home and put up a home set up. What your formula shows for Delhi, it might actually be a gross underestimation of what Delhi requires. We agree that an audit is required. But, this needs to be looked into. We realise that other States also need it.

“What we need to do is that look at this in a pan-India state. Yes, we need to look at the oxygen audit, and we need to reassess the basis for oxygen allocation. You are in Stage 2 of pandemic. Stage 3 might even have very different parameters," Live Law quoted him as saying.

“But, if we prepare today, we will be able to handle Stage 3. It’s not just about allocating oxygen to a State, but equally logistics of a proper oxygen audit takes place and a proper modalities for distribution. That’s why I said other States can be looked at," Justice Chandrachud said.

The apex court had suggested the government should look to Mumbai as BMC had done a good job of handling the Covid situation.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court stayed the contempt proceedings initiated by the Delhi High Court against Central officials for non-compliance of its direction. The court was conducting an urgent hearing on the Centre’s plea against the High Court show-cause notice on contempt and an order seeking personal appearance of its two senior officials for failing to comply with the directions to ensure supply of 700 metric tonnes(MT) of liquid medical oxygen(LMO) to Delhi.

Further, the apex court gave the Centre a 10:30 am deadline for Thursday over the oxygen crisis. The court said, “In a good-faith measure to submit a tabulated plan before this court, we allow Centre to submit a plan by 10.30 am tomorrow."

A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud and comprising MR Shah heard the matter. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, while senior advocate Rahul Mehra appeared on behalf of GNCTD. Mehta told the Supreme Court, “The Centre and Delhi government are both making best efforts. This is not adversarial. Putting officers in jail will not ensure oxygen supply. The Centre is preparing a module for supplying oxygen to various states."

Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court on Thursday asked the Delhi government to treat as representation a PIL alleging there was overcharging for cremations and ambulance services going on in the national capital during the prevailing COVID-19 crisis. A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh said the representation be decided in accordance with the law, rules, regulations and government policy applicable to the facts of the case.

The court said the decision be taken as early as possible and practicable and with the observation disposed of the plea by NGO Distress Management Collective. Delhi government additional standing counsel Anuj Aggarwal told the bench that municipal bodies be also asked to treat the NGO’s plea as a representation as they are also running crematoriums.

A similar plea, by a lawyer, with regard to over charging by ambulances was not entertained by the court as it was of the view that it had been filed without doing any research. The bench said it would dismiss the petition with costs or it can be withdrawn by the petitioner — Nimesh Joshi. Subsequently, the plea was withdrawn. The NGO, represented by advocates M P Srivignesh, Robin Raju and Deepa Joseph, in its plea had contended that “there is a dire need for a policy to regulate the charges levied for cremation and burials during these difficult COVID times".

“It is seen that due to the lack of such policy, the caretakers and other private parties involved with the functioning of the crematoriums and burial spots specifically assigned for COVID deaths, are charging for cremations and burials as per their own whims and fancies," it had said. The NGO had also said that ambulance service providers across Delhi were charging unjustified fares for even a short distance.

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first published:May 06, 2021, 10:14 IST