Prepare for Third Wave, Delhi Needs Buffer Oxygen Stock: SC Tells Centre

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Amid the ongoing oxygen crisis, the Supreme Court on Thursday morning 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 a survey has revealed that Delhi hospitals have significant stock of oxygen.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Union government, said 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

“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.”

Justice Chandrachud told the Centre, “Calculating oxygen demands based on per bed is not scientific.” It asked the Centre to “try and extrapolate BMC model for Delhi”.

The Supreme Court said that till an audit was not done, actual procurement needed to be focused on in Delhi. “Centre needs to inch closer to 700 MT for Delhi, the present supply of about 550 MT does not work.”

The court asked the Centre to inform by Wednesday midnight on how much oxygen they shall supply to the national capital.

While Mehta told the court that the Centre had a formula to calculate oxygen demands and elaborated on it, the court reminded the government that it needs to understand that the situation was dynamic in different parts of the country and the demand may vary. Not prudent to have a static formula. The court told the Centre, “Please tell us that in the next few days how will you meet the demand of Delhi.”

The court asked the Centre, “Why are the orders of supply of oxygen to Delhi not been complied with?” To which, Mehta said, “Demand for oxygen has steeply gone up. We are diverting oxygen from all possible sources. Equitable distribution of oxygen is being ensured.”

Justice Chandrachud reiterated, “Effort should be to comply, we agree that putting officers in jail would not help the situation.”

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