“Putting officers in jail will not bring oxygen to the city. Let’s ensure lives are saved.” The Supreme Court on Wednesday observed this while hearing a plea of the Centre against Delhi High Court’s order issuing contempt notice yesterday.
The hearing began in the afternoon after Chief Justice NV Ramana asked the court registry to place the papers on 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… And we are answerable to the citizens of Delhi… Which is the best way to ensure 700 tonnes to Delhi?” the court asked.
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.
‘Centre is doing its best’
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 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.”
Creating a buffer stock
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 a 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 by 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.
Learn from Mumbai model
Tuesday the Delhi HC had sought the personal appearance of the Central government officials for non-compliance of the direction on the supply of oxygen to treat COVID-19 patients in the national capital.
The apex court also recommended that the Centre take notes from the Mumbai municipal authority in managing oxygen supplies.
In a hearing on Tuesday, the Delhi High Court on the issue of shortage of oxygen told the Centre that it might choose to “dig its head like an ostrich in the sand”, but the court will not. Noting that people are dying, the HC asked the government: “Are you living in ivory towers?”
It further asked the Centre why contempt action should not be initiated against it for not complying with judicial orders on oxygen supply to the Capital.