The Centre and state governments were doing their best amid the oxygen crisis and it was pointless to jail officials for contempt, the Supreme Court said today while hearing the Union government’s plea against a Delhi High Court order. It also recommended that the Centre take notes from the Mumbai municipal authority in managing oxygen supplies.
The hearing began in the afternoon today after the Union government moved the Supreme Court against the lower court’s threat to pursue contempt charges against officials for non-compliance of an earlier order.
Chief Justice NV Ramana had placed the matter before a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah.
“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. “Contempt does not help.”
“We had passed orders for 700 metric tonnes…we can review it later…we are answerable to the citizens of Delhi…which is the best way to ensure 700 tonnes to Delhi?” the court asked.
When the Centre claimed that Delhi can manage with 500 tonnes of the gas, the court disagreed saying its orders were for 700 metric tonnes and that 550 metric tonnes it was getting now will not resolving the city’s problem.
The Centre informed 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 the Delhi government.
Justice Shah seemed to agree with the Centre. He said, “The Centre is doing its best…Otherwise what will happen? If you get oxygen from another state, that state will also suffer.”
The Centre tried to impress upon on 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 has 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.
“We are not debunking this entire formula. But this is on assumption…and may not be applicable to all states,” Justice Chandrachud said. “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 this formula was scientific or only a rough one. “Of course, it is bona fide and we can look at this on May 10,” he said.
There was tremendous sense of anxiety among citizens and there is a need to publicise the allocation, so that both the citizens and hospitals know about it, the court said.
Referring to suppliers’, Justice Chandrachud said, “You may tell Delhi that so-and-so is the supplier, but does the supplier have the ability to supply…If one supplier is allocated to two states, he may not be able to supply to Delhi.”
“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,” he said recommending that the Chief Secretary of the Union Health Ministry speak with the Mumbai Municipal Commissioner on the matter.
“Please ensure that benchmark we fixed is achieved…Tell us in the evening how much capacity you will ensure for Delhi,” he said.
The Centre, meanwhile, informed the court that 351.56 metric tonnes of oxygen had reached Delhi till 12 noon today. A number of other tankers are also in transit, it said, adding that oxygen supply had improved in the city since last night.
The Union government’s failure to implement a Delhi High Court order on immediate supply of the full quota of oxygen to Delhi “by whatever means” had evoked 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.
Despite the High Court’s repeated urging, the Centre has remained firm on its stance that the Arvind Kejriwal government had been allocated oxygen according to a calculation that applies to all states. The Delhi administration’s mismanagement is what has led to the crisis there, the Centre has 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.