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Delhi HC raps Centre, says both govts responsible for getting oxygen to capital

During the hearing, SG Mehta earlier raised objection to the letter written by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to industrialist Sajjan Jindal requesting him to provide any stocks of oxygen along with cryogenic tankers for its movement.

Written by Sofi Ahsan | New Delhi |
Updated: April 26, 2021 11:56:38 pm
People at a shop to refill their oxygen cylinders in New Delhi on Saturday.

THE Delhi High Court Monday took strong exception to the central government’s submission that medical oxygen reaching Delhi was not its job, and said it was the responsibility of both the governments. The court also said it expects the central government to exercise its powers with regard to the seizure of four tankers of INOX by the Rajasthan government.

The division bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said it had asked the Centre to look at the possibility of reworking the allocations to reduce the distance between the oxygen suppliers and hospitals. “We also said that over the weekend, you may as an interim measure do because Delhi is not getting its quota. All that was not done. 21 lives have been lost in the hospital,” said the court.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that was “not because of non-supply by me for god’s sake” to which the court responded that it may not have been because of “non-supply” but due to it not reaching Delhi.

However, Mehta responded, “Not reaching Delhi is not my job.” The court reacted sharply, calling the submission unfortunate, and added: “You cannot say it is not your job. It is the job of both the governments.”

Mehta, while addressing the Delhi government, then said, “Please put your system in place. Please have competent officers.” The court said, “Same can be said about you. Same can be said about your allocations.”

“What prima facie appears to us is that you are making these allegations… Once you make allocations, they should be workable. Now you tell INOX to pick up from Air Liquide but tankers are stopped…,” said the court.

The court also said it was not suggesting that oxygen has to go only to Delhi, and believes that decisions have been taken with application of mind.

“We are not going to interfere but then look at the conditions, look at the problems. Despite knowing Delhi does not have its own tankers, despite knowing INOX was earlier the main supplier, you keep depleting allocation of INOX, giving it to Air Liquide, then telling INOX to pick it up from there and when they are trying to pick up, then there is a problem from the state of Rajasthan,” said the court.

Executive Director, INOX Group, Siddharth Jain told the court that the root of the issue in the national capital is that Delhi is not receiving its 480 MT allocation in toto and informed the court that the company is willing to take the extra burden of transporting from Air Liquide.

However, he also told the court INOX’s four tankers which were being brought to Delhi for the purpose were taken under control by the central government.

“I service 45 hospitals whose true demand is closer to 200. We are really confused what do we do. SOS calls are being received every two hours. It is back-breaking and brain-breaking. We do not have ability if everybody’s demand is going to be 5X,” Jain told the court, adding that half of his staff is down with Covid.

Jain also said the company supplies oxygen to 800 hospitals in the national capital and the problem is limited to Delhi. However, he also told the court that the Centre has reduced the allocation of Delhi.

“Everybody is talking about INOX allocation reducing from 125-105-85 MT. While Delhi allocation is coming down, Rajasthan and UP are going up. My supply chain is being used to deliver that quantity,” he said, seeking assistance from the court regarding tankers held up in Rajasthan.

Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra, representing Delhi government, also told the court that INOX is a producer, supplier and distributor in itself.

“When we had 140 MTs from it, for 50% of our capacity we were not supposed to look for tankers. Since that capacity has gone away to others and we have been given to some other 50 percent who do not have tankers, therefore this need arises in the last 3-5 days that everybody is looking for tankers,” Mehra told the court.

SG Mehta objects to CM seeking oxygen from industrialist

During the hearing, SG Mehta earlier raised objection to the letter written by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to industrialist Sajjan Jindal requesting him to provide any stocks of oxygen along with cryogenic tankers for its movement.

Mehta told the court that as a national response to Covid management, procurement of oxygen has to happen at the national level. “It is the duty, entitlement, right and power of every state government to procure tankers but not oxygen,” he told the court.

The division bench said that the Delhi government may pursue the communication and procure cryogenic tankers but the procurement of oxygen shall be on the instructions of the central government.

After INOX told the court that four of its tankers have been taken over by the Rajasthan government, the division bench said it hopes and expects the Rajasthan government to honour orders passed by the central government and the court.

“We will only remind any intervention caused in the matter of supply of medical liquid oxygen at this stage would tantamount to endangering hundreds of human lives, if not more. It serves no purpose for anyone to cause any obstruction in the smooth flow of much needed medical oxygen. Stoppage of tankers by one state would have a snowballing effect and would certainly impact the concerned state itself,” said the court.

SG Tushar Mehta told the court that strict action would be taken and it would be ensured that the tankers are freed so they can proceed to their destination. A senior officer of the Ministry of Home Affairs told the court that the Rajasthan government has not yet promised the release of these tankers due to shortage there.

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