In an urgent hearing on Wednesday evening, the Delhi High Court pulled up the Union and private industries for the grave oxygen shortage in hospitals for treating COVID-19 patients in critical condition. Issuing a stern warning to the Union government, the Delhi High Court ordered it to "forthwith" provide oxygen by whatever means to Delhi hospitals. "You are not exploring all avenues to augment oxygen supply. Beg, borrow or steal," the court told the Union government.
On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court was conducting an urgent hearing on a public holiday on a plea filed by Balaji Medical and Research Centre, which owns and runs Max hospitals. In the plea, it states that if supply of oxygen is not replenished on an immediate basis, the lives of the patients who are critical and on oxygen support will be endangered. The petition said there are six Max hospitals in the national capital and NCR and are treating 1,400 COVID-19 patients. Asking why it is not waking up to the gravity of the emergency situation, the court observed, "It seems human life is not important for the state." It also warned that certainly all hell will break loose with the stoppage of medical oxygen to the hospitals.
This comes at a time when several hospitals in Delhi are scrambling to save its patients amid the shortage of oxygen supply. Several families of COVID-19 patients are desparately making calls to find oxygen cylinders. While many in Madhya Pradesh reportedly "looted" oxygen cylinders from hospitals, in Maharshtra's Nashik, a oxygen leak from a container led to delay in supply of oxygen, which, in turn, led to the death of at least 22 patients.
"Do you want to see thousands of people dying in the country?" a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli asked at the hearing on Wednesday, as it came down heavily on the Union government for not diverting sufficient oxygen supply from industries to hospitals. During the extraordinary hearing, the court said the responsibility to ensure oxygen supply lay squarely on the Union government's shoulders and if necessary, the entire supply of oxygen to industries, including steel and petroleum, can be diverted for medical usage.
"Why is the Centre not waking up to the gravity of the situation? We are shocked and dismayed hospitals running out of oxygen but steel plants are running," the court said, and added how the government can be so oblivious of the reality. "There is no sense of humanity left or what? This is really really ridiculous and shocking. You are concerned about industries when people are dying. It an emergency you should realise. It seems human life is not important for the state," it observed.
The court directed the Union government to protect the fundamental right to life of citizens who are seriously ill and require medical oxygen and to supply the same by whatever means it is required. "Our concern is not just for Delhi. We want to know what the Union government is doing with regard to oxygen supply across India," it said. "If this is the situation in Delhi, we are sure it is the same in other states. Do you want to see thousands of people dying in the country? Is running steel plants so important and urgent?" the bench said, and added that the country is facing an emergency situation where hospitals are short of oxygen, which is also going to end in few hours.
The court said the steel and petrochemical industries are oxygen guzzlers and diverting oxygen from there can meet requirements of hospitals. "If Tatas can divert oxygen they are generating for their steel plants to medical use, why can't others? This is the height of greed. Is there no sense of humanity left or not." The court said, "Heavens are not going to fall if the industries, including steel and petroleum, run on lower capacity till oxygen is imported."
The court said transportation of oxygen from the place of production to the place of supply is also a challenge and time consuming activity as it is done only through highways in the normal course. The Union government shall consider ways and means for transportation of oxygen either by creating a dedicated corridor so that the supply lines are not obstructed or even airlift it from the place of production to the place of usage, it said.
"We are constrained to direct the Union government to forthwith implement this order and take over supply of oxygen from steel plants and if necessary also from the petroleum plants, to supply it to hospitals," it said. The court said such industries will have to stop their productions till the situation in hospitals improves and directed them to increase their oxygen production generated by them and give it to Centre for supply in other states for medical use.
The bench was later informed by the counsel for M/s Inox, which supplies oxygen to hospitals in Delhi, that certain quantity is on its way from anUttar Pradesh plant to Max Hospital, Patparganj in Delhi and will reach in two hours. On the apprehension that there could be some obstructions and law and order problem, the court directed the Union government that a safe passage be provided to oxygen supply from the place of production to the place of supply.