‘Bury your head in sand like ostrich’: Delhi HC raps Centre on oxygen crisis

Court issues show-cause notice to Centre over “non-compliance” of its order from last Saturday to provide 700 MT of medical oxygen to Delhi

The Delhi HC said, 'Right now, our concern is to ensure it [oxygen supply] is being done in the most efficient way possible'

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday (April 4) issued a show-cause notice to the Centre over “non-compliance” of its order from last Saturday to provide 700 metric tonnes (MT) of medical oxygen to Delhi. The HC asked Piyush Goyal and Sumita Dawra, additional secretaries in the ministries of home affairs and industrial promotion, respectively, to appear before it on Wednesday to answer the notice.

The notice was also over “non-compliance” of the Supreme Court’s order from May 2, directing the Centre to rectify the issue of shortage of medical oxygen in the capital, on or before the midnight of May 3, the court said.

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“You can put your head in sand like ostrich, we will not,” it said. “During the course of the hearing, it has been brought to our notice that Delhi has still not received 700 metric tonnes of oxygen even though the Supreme Court had directed compliance by the Union of India by midnight on May 3.”

The Centre had submitted that it would file a compliance affidavit in the SC on Wednesday, the court noted, but said: “We fail to understand what good compliance affidavit would do when 700 MTs oxygen is not being delivered to Delhi. Even 590 MTs per day has not been delivered for a single day.

The court took issue with the Centre’s submission that the SC had not directed supply of 700 MTs. A “complete reading” of the order showed that the government had indeed been directed to supply said quantity of medical oxygen, it said.

The court said the SC had taken note of the “heart-rendering” situation in Delhi and the assurance given by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to meet the Delhi government’s demands.

“It pains us that the aspect of supply of oxygen for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in Delhi should be viewed from the way it has been done by the central government,” the court said.

The HC also asked the Centre to reroute oxygen from Maharashtra – where the COVID-19 situation has shown signs of easing – to Delhi.

“We suggest that if Maharashtra’s need for oxygen and tankers has depleted, they could be diverted to New Delhi. Whenever the need arises again, you can send them back.”

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma said the Union government was already looking at the possibility of diverting oxygen cylinders from other states to Delhi and assured that action would be taken at the earliest.

The HC got upset over the reaction the Centre’s counsel gave when Delhi government’s representative advocate, Rahul Mehra, said: “People are dying.”

When Sharma said these were “rhetorical statements”, the HC said: “Is it only a rhetorical statement? It’s the reality. You may be blind, but we are not. We cannot shut our eyes. This is so insensitive and unfortunate. How can you make such a statement?”

The court asked the Centre for its plan to deal with the oxygen crisis. “Your plans are all for the future. Right now, our concern is to ensure it [oxygen supply] is being done in the most efficient way possible. If the suppliers are major stakeholders, they should be brought into the allocation plan.”

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The HC also asked the Centre to seek help from the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management to solve the crisis.

Kejriwal Promises Free Ration

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal meanwhile declared free ration for all cardholders for the coming two months along with a one-time financial aid for auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers.

The CM, however, clarified that this announcement did not mean the lockdown would last two months. “Please don’t think I am extending the lockdown for two months. We hope the crisis will get over soon and we can reopen soon as the number of cases decreases,” he said.

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