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Delhi's Oxygen Shortage Must Be Remedied Forthwith : Supreme Court Directs Centre To Rectify Supply Deficit

3 May 2021 9:33 AM GMT
Delhis Oxygen Shortage Must Be Remedied Forthwith : Supreme Court Directs Centre To Rectify Supply Deficit

The Supreme Court has directed the Central Government to ensure that the deficit in Delhi's demand for 700 MT of oxygen per day is rectified on or before the midnight of May 3.

The Order, which had been reserved on 30th April and released on May 2 night, records that existing allocation of oxygen for GNCTD remained at 490 MT/day, while the projected demand had increased by 133% to 700 MT/day, and that therefore there was a need to remedy the same.

The order noted that the Centre itself has admitted in its affidavit filed in Supreme Court that the Delhi Government has revised its projected demand for oxygen by 133% from 490 MT per day to 700 MT per day.

"This situation must be remedied forthwith", the Court observed on this oxygen deficit.

The order was passed in the suo moto case taken by the Supreme Court on COVID-related issues.

Highlighting that the "situation on the ground in Delhi is heart-rending" and recording Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta's submission that GNCTD's demand of medical oxygen would be met and that the capital would not suffer, the Court proceeded to issue a peremptory direction in those terms by stating that both the Centre and GNCTD had to cooperate with each other to ensure that all possible measures were taken to resolve the situation.

Accepting the submissions of the SG, the Court has directed compliance of the aforementioned direction within 2 days from the date of hearing – "that is, on or before midnight of 3 May 2021".

"Recriminations between the Central Government and GNCTD can furnish no solace to citizens whose lives depend on a thin thread of oxygen being available", said the Supreme Court in suo moto case In Re Distribution of Essential Services and Supplies During Pandemic.

"The UOI shall ensure, in terms of the assurance of the Solicitor General, that the deficit in the supply of oxygen to the GNCTD is rectified within 2 days from the date of the hearing, that is, on or before the midnight of 3 May 2021", the Court said in the order.

Noting that in the constant battle of shifting responsibility of supplying/off-taking of oxygen, lives of the citizens could not be put at risk, a Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat directed that "the protection of the lives of citizens is paramount in times of a national crisis and the responsibility falls on both the Central Government and GNCTD to cooperate with each other to ensure that all possible measures are taken to resolve the situation".

On Saturday, the Delhi High Court had directed the Centre to ensure that the National Capital Territory of Delhi receives the allocated quantity of medical oxygen. Since the onset of pandemic, the allocation of medical oxygen for States is being decided by an empowered group of the Central Government.

The Court further acknowledged that while efforts were being made to augment the availability of oxygen, it was critical that a buffer emergency stock of oxygen was created so that in the event the supply chain to any one or more hospitals in any area for any reason was disrupted, the buffer or emergency stock could be used to avoid loss of human lives.

"These emergency stocks must be so distributed so as to be easily accessible without delay in every local area. We have also seen the situation that has developed in the last 24 hours in Delhi where patients, including among them medical professionals, died because of the disruption of supplies and the time lag in the arrival of tankers".

Accordingly, the Order directs for the deficit to be immediately rectified by the Central Government by creating buffer stocks and collaborating with the States through the virtual control room on 24/7 basis, while noting that in view of the deaths, this direction is more crucial than ever.

"We therefore direct the Central Government in collaboration with the States to prepare a buffer stock of oxygen to be used for emergency purposes to ensure supply lines continue to function even in unforeseen circumstances".

Further, the Order records that location of the emergency stocks shall be decentralized so as to be immediately available if the normal supply chain is disrupted to any hospital for any reason, and for the emergency stocks to be created within the next four days.

"The replenishment of the emergency stocks will also be monitored on a real time basis through the virtual control room in active consultation with each State/UT. This is in addition to the day to day allocations".

The Court also provided a list of suggestions to the Central Government for increasing availability of oxygen and ensuring transparency in demand-supply management, and to provide a clarification to the Court on the same. The suggestions are as follows:

"(i) We understand that the Virtual Central Control Room of the Central Government displays the allocation of supply of oxygen by the Central Government to each State/UT. By extension of this, a mechanism for displaying real time updates of supply of oxygen from each State to hospitals in each district, along with the remaining stock of oxygen with the hospitals may be maintained and shared with the citizens to ensure transparency. This will also ensure that citizens can easily identify the hospitals where medical aid can be availed;

(ii) The government shall clarify the steps being taken on planning on the use of oxygen concentrators to reduce the demand of LMO, such that LMO is needed only for critical patients. A comprehensive plan on augmenting the production/import of these oxygen concentrators may be considered;

(iii) The expected supply of oxygen/containers to be received from outside India should be suitably augmented to cater to anticipated increases in the demand and shortfall of domestic availability. Pending the early finalization of the global tender a decision may be taken on the need to continue imports to bridge the gap in availability; and

(iv) A review shall be made of any restrictions on inter-State travel of trucks or tankers carrying oxygen/other medical aid equipment (such as GST related issues, documentation) which might cause a hindrance in their movement. The Central Government may consider implementing a system to track and map the supply tankers which would allow better management of resources and allow diversion of resources from one State to the other in case of emergencies."

Case Details

Title : In Re Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic, Suo Moto Writ Petition(Civil) No. 3/2021

Coram : Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat

Citation : LL 2021 SC 236

Click here to read/download the order

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