Updated: May 8, 2021 5:15:42 am
OVERRULING PLEAS by the Centre, the Supreme Court Friday declined to interfere with a Karnataka High Court direction asking the Central Government to increase daily allocation of Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) for the state, which has emerged as the country’s new Covid hotspot, from 962 metric tonnes (MT) to 1,200 MT for a short period to tide over an acute shortage.
In its plea, the Centre said that if every High Court were to pass similar orders without regard to the stocks available, it will lead to chaos in LMO supply. The Bench said that while it is looking at the “larger issue”, it will not “leave the people of the state in the lurch”.
With a daily caseload of over 45,000 in the state, a Bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah said the Karnataka High Court’s order on May 5 is “well considered and well calibrated”.
The court said it was only an “ad-interim direction subject to such calibration as would be necessitated” after the state and the Centre had “mutually attempted to resolve the issue”. It said that the High Court “has furnished adequate reasons for issuing” the direction and that it “does not preclude a mutual resolution by the two governments, since the proceedings are still pending”.
In its May 5 order, the Karnataka High Court had granted the state government liberty to submit an additional representation to the Centre containing the projected requirement for at least one week and asked the Centre to consider it in four days.
The Supreme Court, while disposing of the Centre’s appeal, said the High Court’s order “is based on the need to maintain at least a minimum requirement as projected by the State Government until a decision on the representation is taken and the High Court is apprised”.
It said: “Hence, without enquiring into the wider issues sought to be raised at this stage (and keeping them open) there is no reason to entertain the Special Leave Petition”.
Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said he is not being adversarial and is only concerned with the interim measure for increasing the quantity. “Because if every HC keeps directing, then it will be problematic…We have a limited quantity,” he said, adding that the Centre and state can sit together and sort it out.
“I am not challenging or alleging. This is our problem together as a nation…There are several HCs where such petitions are filed. If every HC directs what should be supplied, then the scheme of things will be unworkable…This leaves room for every High Court to start examining and allocating oxygen,” Mehta said.
But the bench pointed out that the HC had said the minimum requirement of Karnataka, as projected by the state government on May 5, was 1,162 MT. “It wasn’t arbitrary. Had we felt that they had stretched their powers, we would have interfered. But, this is a well considered and well calibrated order,” the bench said.
Justice Chandrachud told the S-G that the court had already said while hearing another plea on oxygen supply to Delhi that there will be a committee to ascertain requirements and availability, but that does not mean the High Courts will “shut their eyes” to the issues till then.
The S-G contended that “this leaves room for every HC to start examining and allocating oxygen”. “We are looking at a wider issue. We will not leave the people of the state in the lurch in the meanwhile,” the bench responded.
Mehta urged the court not to say so as it would mean that an institution wanted to keep citizens in the lurch. With the court not relenting, he requested it to at least add in the order that this will not be treated as a precedent.
Seeking a stay of the High Court order, the Centre had said that the “High Court failed to consider the rationale behind allocation of certain amounts of oxygen to each State and purely on the basis of purported shortage in the city of Bangalore, passed directions which, if fulfilled, will have a cascading effect and result in the total collapse of the system in its fight against the ongoing second wave of Covid-19 Coronavirus”.
It pointed out “that the entire nation is feeling the effects of the ongoing second wave of Covid-19 coronavirus and that, in such a situation it is imperative that the limited resources available at the disposal of the entire nation (in this case, oxygen supply), be put to its most judicious use, keeping in mind the overall situation in the country”.
It said the High Court order “would ultimately lead to mismanagement of resources and create a further chaotic environment in an already overburdened system”.
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