Solicitor General Tushar Mehta claimed that all hospitals were approaching the court only at the last minute about lack of oxygen.
The Centre on Sunday urged the Delhi High Court to recall its order warning the Union government of contempt proceedings if it failed to supply the 490 metric tonnes of oxygen a day allocated to the national Capital, PTI reported.
In its application, the Centre said the May 1 order will have a demoralising effect on its officials.
A devastating second wave of coronavirus in India has led to widespread shortages of medical oxygen and medicines in Delhi. Earlier in the day, a children’s hospital was among at least three institutions that raised an alarm on Twitter that it was running out of oxygen. On Saturday, 12 patients, including a senior doctor, died at Batra Hospital due to oxygen shortage.
During Sunday’s hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli that there was a systematic failure in dealing with the oxygen crisis, according to Bar and Bench. “Every hospital at the last minute comes to court and we’re fire fighting,” he claimed. “Can’t hospitals tell that 12 hours down the line that we would run out. Systematic failure doesn’t mean the government has failed.”
The solicitor general told the court to direct the Arvind Kejriwal government to arrange tankers. The judges, however, objected to the suggestion that the Delhi government was not making enough efforts to deal with problem. “We are dealing with lives of many people,” the bench said. “Delhi is on a very different footing. You issued a notification saying Delhi government is lieutenant governor…Look at the constitutional scheme. Delhi is not an industrial state.”
Mehta told the judges that the alarms raised by hospitals everyday can be avoided if oxygen supply was properly channelised and used judiciously.
Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government, opposed this. “To say that Delhi is not using oxygen judiciously means that doctors are not using it judiciously,” he shot back. “Delhi government is not using it. There is complete disruption is system because of the allocation which doesn’t consider how it would be transported to Delhi. Systematic failure is at their end.”
The Centre’s application before the High Court said it was “categorically and unequivocally understood” by all state governments, including Delhi, that they have to take responsibility for transportation of oxygen and its distribution. “Rather than discharging its constitutional, statutory and humanitarian duties and obligations in the times of the present crisis, the GNCTD [Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi] seems to be channelling most of its energies in creating a facade to cover up its complete incompetence/incapacity, especially at the end of the last mile delivery,” it added.
But Rahul Mehra said allocated amount of oxygen was never made available to the Delhi government. He also said the Centre’s application was “uncalled for” and said Delhi government officers were “stretched beyond their limits” and if allegations of incompetence are made against them, they will have a nervous breakdown.
The Delhi government counsel informed the judges that oxygen supplier Linde refused to use around 15 tankers that they were trying to procure from Adani, saying it was used for transporting hydrocarbons. Mehra said that Linde was told the tankers would be cleaned properly, but despite this they “refused point blank”.
The Arvind Kejriwal government suggested that the Centre should also take over all tankers, like they took over oxygen plants, and distribute it equally among states. However, Mehta said that tankers cannot be nationalised and said it was the responsibility of the state governments. He pointed out that even Lakshadweep has managed to get tankers.
“The Delhi government has not made any serious attempt nor has ever approached the Ministry of Road Transport, Union of India, for temporary help or assistance for transportation of oxygen,” the Centre’s application said.
The judges asked the Delhi government to respond to Centre’s plea to recall its previous order to supply allocated oxygen to Delhi or face contempt. They also said the amicus curiae in the case has given a note on the legal problem of whose responsibility it was to arrange tankers.
Mehta, however, interrupted and requested the court not to delve into this aspect, according to Live Law. “Please don’t go into that issue,” he said. “With folded hands I am requesting. It will cause a serious harm to entire Covid management. We are not having the luxury of having a constitutional issue.”
Mehra, meanwhile, said the court has to decide matters legally. The judges said the amicus curiae will suggest the required modalities and they will examine the point.
The matter will continue to be heard next week.