The Centre and state governments are doing their best amid the oxygen crisis and it is pointless to jail officials for contempt, the Supreme Court said today before staying a Delhi High Court’s contempt notice against officials for no following its orders. The top court, however, directed the Centre to place before it by tomorrow morning a “comprehensive plan” to ensure that Delhi received its quota of 700 metric tonnes of oxygen.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah recommended that the Centre take notes from the “Mumbai model” to try and ensure oxygen supplies to Delhi. It also refused to stop the High Court from monitoring the oxygen situation.
“Between the Centre and State putting officers in jail or hauling them up for contempt, the people of Delhi won’t get oxygen,” the Supreme Court said, hearing the Centre’s plea against the contempt charges.
“We direct that by 10.30 am tomorrow, the Centre shall place a comprehensive plan in the form of a chart, indicating the manner in which the direction for allocation of 700 metric tonnes shall be complied with,” the court said, adding that it was answerable to the citizens of Delhi. “We do not want contempt proceedings. We want action on the ground,” the court said.
When the Central government said Delhi can manage with 500 tonnes of the gas, the court disagreed saying its own orders were for 700 tonnes and that the 550 tonnes that the city was getting now won’t solve the problem.
The Centre told the court that both the state and Union governments were “doing their best”.
“We are in the process of going to 700 metric tonnes of Oxygen…on May 4 we could reach 585 tonnes,” it said. Up to 590 tonnes of the vital gas were allotted to Delhi.
Justice Shah seemed to agree: “The Centre is doing its best…Otherwise what will happen? If you get oxygen from another state, that state will also suffer.”
The Central government tried to impress upon the court that despite being in a pandemic, India was able to augment its oxygen capacity from 5,000 metric tonnes, including industrial oxygen, to 9,000 tonnes now available for medical purpose.
Now the question was how to allocate this to each state, the government said. For this, the court was told, a formula had been adopted. “We devised a formula with experts and it is applicable for the entire country…Based on this, Delhi was allocated 480 metric tonnes,” it said.
Justice Chandrachud, however, sought to know if such a formula could be universally applicable. “Different states are peaking at different times. You cannot have a general assessment for the entire country,” he said.
The court was not sure if the “formula” was scientific or a rough one. “Of course, it is bona fide and we can look at this on May 10,” it said, adding that there was tremendous anxiety among citizens, making it pertinent that the allocation be publicised so that citizens and hospitals are aware.
Justice Chandrachud sought to look at suppliers’ capacity amid heightening demand, especially if any of them caters to multiple states.
“We had indicated creating a buffer stock. If this can be done in Mumbai, which is thickly populated, it can certainly be done in Delhi,” Justice Chandrachud said, recommending that the Chief Secretary of the Union Health Ministry speak with the Mumbai Municipal Commissioner on the matter.
The court gave the Centre and Delhi three days to discuss oxygen-supply management with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.
The Centre, meanwhile, said 351.56 metric tonnes of oxygen had reached Delhi till 12 noon today. A number of tankers are in transit, too, and oxygen supply had improved in the city since last night, it said.
Its failure to implement a Delhi High Court order on immediate supply of the full quota of oxygen to Delhi “by whatever means” had provoked the judges’ wrath yesterday. It asked the government to explain why a contempt case should not be initiated against it.
“Enough is enough. We will not take a ‘no’ regarding oxygen supply. There is no way that you will not supply 700 metric tonne oxygen immediately. We will not hear anything except compliance,” the Delhi High Court had said yesterday.
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The Centre’s stance was that oxygen allocation had been done based on a calculation that applied to all states. The Delhi administration’s mismanagement was what had led to the crisis, it held.
Over 40 people have died in the national capital as hospitals there have run out of oxygen and have been flagging the shortage every few hours.