‘Do you want people to die?’: Karnataka HC asks Union govt to give more oxygen to state

These observations came as the Karnataka High Court took cognisance of 24 people dying due to oxygen shortage in Chamarajanagar.
Karnataka High Court
Karnataka High Court

The Karnataka High Court, on May 4, took exception to the Union government advocate who sought more time to put on record regarding allocating more oxygen to the state. A bench led by Karnataka Chief Justice AS Oka asked the Union government, “Do you want more people to die? If your process is defective, we are not interested in your process. We are interested in oxygen.”

The bench asked what was the rationale behind giving more oxygen to states which have a low caseload compared to states which are suffering from a high caseload. “Is there any justification for that?” the bench asked.

These observations came in light of the Karnataka High Court taking cognisance of media reports of the large-scale tragedy that took place in Chamarajanagar district on May 3. Twenty-four COVID-19 patients who were on ventilators in the government medical college hospital there had died as there was a shortage of medical oxygen. However, it is not the only such incident to take place in the state. At least two more deaths, due to similar reasons, each in Bengaluru and Kalaburagi have been reported since Sunday.

The Union government advocate on May 4 asked for time till the afternoon of May 5 for instructions, but the HC said he has to place the Union government’s decision on record at 10:30 am on Wednesday.

“We are putting the Central government on notice that the prayer for issuing a direction for increasing the quota on an ad-hoc basis will be considered tomorrow at 10.30 am,” the High Court said. The High Court warned that if the Union government failed to make a decision in this regard, it would pass orders.

This was not the first time that the High Court was hearing matters related to oxygen shortage in the state. The High Court was told on April 27 by the state government that Karnataka needed 1,792  metric tonnes of oxygen as per their estimated projection. The High Court had then said that the Union government had to take immediate action to ensure supply of 802 MT of oxygen per day by April 30.

The High Court said, “Notwithstanding this letter, we are told that the quota is increased to 865 MT only. We in the morning session informed the Central government counsel to take instructions for increasing the quota.”

Some of the petitioner lawyers told the court that in a similar situation, recently, Delhi got some relief only after the High Court there passed an order.

Asking about the Chamarajanagar tragedy, the HC also asked what mechanism the state government has established to ensure that there is an adequate supply of oxygen within the state, as reports of oxygen shortage are reported from hospitals. Without passing an order, the HC observed that there was a prima facie requirement of a probe by a retired High Court judge.

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