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Saturday, May 08, 2021

Delhi High Court to Centre: Beg, borrow, steal, it’s your job to get oxygen

At the end of the hearing, the Centre assured unobstructed passage of oxygen tankers to Delhi from other states.

Written by Sofi Ahsan | New Delhi |
Updated: April 22, 2021 7:51:34 am
India Covid-19, Covid-19 India Oxygen crisis, Oxygen Crisi India Covid-19, Niti Aayog India Covid-19, indian express newsThe petitioner told the court that most of the hospitals in the network are working in dangerously low levels of oxygen supply which can lead to adverse patient incident. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

Underlining that it is the government’s responsibility to provide oxygen to medical facilities, the Delhi High Court came down strongly on the Centre on Wednesday, saying it seemed that “human lives are not that important.. for the state”.

“Beg, borrow or steal. It is a national emergency,” said the Division Bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli.


“We are shocked and dismayed that the government does not seem to be seeing the reality… What is happening? Why is the government not waking up to the reality,” said the court.

The court was holding a special hearing after Max Healthcare network sought its urgent intervention, saying that most of its hospitals were working on “dangerously low levels of oxygen supply”.

“Every 10 days, we have doubled the number of (Covid-19) cases and the fact of the matter on the ground is that there is a shortage of oxygen and it is evident to all. It is not that it is artificial or being wrongly projected. It is there. We cannot shut our eyes to it,” said the court.

“As a state, you cannot say that look we can provide this much and no more, so if people die, let them die. That cannot be acceptable and that cannot be an answer of the sovereign state. We will have to enforce the fundamental rights of people and direct beg, borrow and steal and do whatever you have to do but you have to do. We cannot see people dying, because people are dying,” said the court.

On the Centre’s decision to exempt some industries from the ban on industrial use of oxygen, the Bench said: “You have your own state-run steel plants and petroleum industries. Why can’t you curtail it? Why can’t you stop it? Why can’t you minimise it to whatever is absolutely critical? We can understand that you cannot shut down petroleum production completely in the country because it is a critical thing by itself, but you can reduce it. We are sure that if you were to divert their oxygen for medical use, you would be able to meet the requirement”.

Stock of oxygen cylinders at a private oxygen dealer shop in Uttar Pradesh. (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

“There is no sense of humanity left or what. What are we looking at… This is really, really ridiculous. You’re concerned about industries at this point of time when people are dying in thousands. One week, two weeks, your industries can wait. It is an emergency of such a grave nature. Human lives are not that important.. that means.. for the state?” it said.

The court said it was a “dire” situation, where “thousands” may lose their lives “because we are not able to provide oxygen”. “We are telling you that as a sovereign state, it is your responsibility to provide every metric tonne of oxygen that is required by patients in India. It is your responsibility. You cannot turn around and say ‘sorry, we do not have it, lose your life’. We cannot accept that. You have to go a step further,” it said.

Saying that oxygen could be sourced even from industries which were producing their own supply, the court said: “If the result is that those industries have to shut down for some time, till you make alternate arrangements, so be it, because we cannot afford to lose lives. That is the bottom line”.

The Centre submitted that it had increased the supply of oxygen to Delhi from 378 MTs to 480 MTs. “What is the point of all this paper exercise? We do not understand. If they require 700 MTs… the number of patients has risen. It is no solace to anybody that you are supplying 400-odd. We are not blaming you but you have to understand that it is an emergency,” the court said.

During the hearing, the court asked Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta if the Centre could assure it that none of the hospitals in Delhi would face a critical situation tonight. Mehta responded that the Delhi government could give that assurance.

Oxygen cylinders at Yamuna Sports Complex, in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, responded: “These are human lives. If it was a commercial transaction, I could have understood. How can I take that responsibility on my shoulders? My shoulders are not as big…”

The Centre recorded Mehta’s assurance that the Centre would facilitate the allocated 480 MTs of oxygen supply to Delhi. It also recorded Mehta’s statement that the Centre would ensure unobstructed safe passage of oxygen tankers to Delhi.

Mehra had told the court that only 200-250 MTs could be received during the day and there were obstructions from Haryana.

“We are hopeful that the emergent needs of various hospitals in Delhi will be met so that no casualties are suffered on account of discontinued supply of oxygen to seriously ill Covid patients and other patients who require oxygen support till we take up the matter and pass orders tomorrow,” said the court, while adjourning the hearing to Thursday afternoon.

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