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HC slams Delhi Govt for oxygen mess: If you can’t manage, will ask Centre to step in

The Delhi High court noted that the shortage of oxygen reported by the hospitals is a constant complaint which means "there is some truth in it".

Written by Sofi Ahsan | New Delhi |
Updated: April 28, 2021 2:35:13 am
Large number of patients in ambulances wait to be admitted to the LNJP hospital, New Delhi (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

In a strong indictment of the Delhi government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis in the Capital, the Delhi High Court said its confidence was “shaken” and that if the government cannot manage the situation, the court will ask the Centre to step in.

“Set your house in order. Enough is enough. If you cannot manage it, tell us, then we will ask the central government to send their officers in and do it. We will ask them to take over. We cannot let people die like this,” a division bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said soon after asking the government to take over Seth Air Products, a cylinder supplying unit in Dwarka, which, it said, could be resorting to black marketing.

Hauling up the government for alleged mismanagement in distribution of medical oxygen and blaming it for rampant black marketing of oxygen cylinders and essential Covid-19 drugs in Delhi, the court directed the government to inform by Wednesday about stocks held by gas refillers.

It also sought a report from the state government on the deaths in hospitals on account of oxygen shortage.

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When Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, told the court that the government had found itself in an unprecedented situation and that it was “learning”, the court said, “You are administrators. You should know how to administer. You should know what your powers are and how you have to administer.”

Observing that the controls imposed by the government were in fact leading to hoarding, the court said, “It transpires that a substantial quantity of oxygen is supplied to gas refillers but there is no mechanism… as of now to account [for] the further supplies that they make to the hospitals and nursing homes or even individuals,” it said.

“You are only doing distribution of lollipops. You issue orders which you really don’t mean. It seems they have sufficient supply,” said the court.

Referring to Seth Air Products, whose owner was present at the hearing, the court said it was surprised that the unit was not even enlisted in the government orders about suppliers whom hospitals could contact in case of an emergency.

“We are surprised. Seth appears to be a rather big supplier. He (Tarun Seth) is holding 20 MTs of liquid medical oxygen and he does not form part of your order. There seems to be something fishy. It cannot just be an oversight. Why is he not part of your order,” asked the court, adding, “You are crying you do not have oxygen but he does not know whom to supply.”

Seth earlier told the court that he had formal orders from the Delhi government for supply to only four hospitals but has been supplying to 70 hospitals on the direction of government officials. “They are telling me you have to manage. I will supply to whoever they tell me to supply,” he told the court.

With hospitals and government officers challenging Seth’s claim that he was not sent allocation orders by the government, the court directed the government to take note of his conduct and take over his unit. “Let this be an example. If others do not fall in line, that is what is going to happen to all others,” said the court.

It issued contempt notices to suppliers who did not attend the hearing on Tuesday despite a court order and also directed the Delhi government to ensure that all gas refillers and suppliers supply oxygen as sought by hospitals and nursing homes. “If they do not, appropriate action should be taken against them under all provisions of law…,” said the court.

The court also directed the government to file a report after making enquiries with all hospitals and nursing homes with regard to deaths in hospitals and nursing homes on account of oxygen shortage. “The affidavit in this regard be filed within four days,” said the court, adding the state has to compensate for the deaths.

The court also told the Delhi government that it cannot fight the “war” against Covid-19 by issuing “unreasonable orders” to the hospitals.

The division bench made the observation after Maharaja Agrasen Hospital told the court that it was impossible to follow the government direction asking them to provide oxygen and medicine within 10-15 minutes of a patient reaching the emergency.

“You are completely out of sync and you do not know what the ground reality is. You do not know how hospitals are coping with the situation — what is the inflow of people, shortage of oxygen and medicine, doctors and paramedics. Why do you come up with these orders? We do not understand,” said the court.

“You think you have discharged your duty by issuing this kind of order and the public will be happy that the government has issued this kind of order? Let us tell you this is nothing but a paper exercise. You are just satisfying your own conscience probably,” said the division bench.

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