The Centre on Monday told the Delhi High Court that states cannot procure oxygen and it has to be done on a national level only despite severe shortage across the country, Live Law reported. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta made the submission while referring to a letter written by the Delhi government to industrialist Sajjan Jindal.

The court, which was hearing a petition on the coronavirus situation in the national Capital, told Mehta that the request to Jindal should be considered for tankers, and not oxygen filled ones. Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, agreed to this and said that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote to Jindal asking for empty tankers only and if there was any “spare oxygen”. However, Solicitor General Mehta reiterated that “spare oxygen” should also be directed to the Centre, pointing out that Jindal cannot possibly have any stock of oxygen as the Centre has already prohibited use of the gas for non-medical purposes.

During the hearing, Mehta said that states have responded positively on Centre’s suggestions on oxygen supply and that shortage of the life-saving gas was in the “process of ironing out”, Bar and Bench reported. He requested Delhi government to arrange for tankers which it has failed to do, adding that his submission was not an adversarial one.

The rather reconciliatory tone of exchange between the Centre and Delhi government came two days after they blamed each other for oxygen allocation and its supply in the national Capital. The High Court bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli had said that it would “hang” any official found obstructing the pick up or supply of oxygen.

This came in the aftermath of an acute shortage of oxygen for coronavirus patients in Delhi. Major hospitals in the Capital nearly ran out of oxygen on multiple occasions last week. On Friday, 25 “sickest” coronavirus patients died overnight at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. A day later, at least 20 coronavirus patients died due to shortage of oxygen at the city’s Jaipur Golden Hospital.

During Monday’s hearing, senior advocate Sachin Dutta, appearing for the Jaipur Golden Hospital, said that the facility had made “many SOS calls” to the Delhi government before the mishap, Live Law reported.

“Please tell us, how many hours before deaths start happening should we call them then?” Dutta said, alleging that the Delhi government does not understand the supply chain of oxygen and that the hospital should be allowed to deal with the suppliers directly.

The High Court pulled up the Centre, asking Mehta as to how lives were lost at Jaipur Golden Hospital despite the reworking of allocation of oxygen among states. The solicitor general claimed that the incident did not happen because of lack of supply from the Centre.

“It is not my job,” Mehta replied, to which court said that it was the responsibility of both the state government and the Centre. “Once you make allocation, they should be workable,” the court added.

Meanwhile, Inox, a prominent supplier of oxygen, said that it was receiving complaints only from hospitals in Delhi, even though it was providing the gas to 800 facilities in the country. Advocate Siddharth Jain, representing Inox, said that the Centre had already told the firm which hospitals it should supply oxygen. But, he added, that the firm was getting calls repeatedly in between scheduled deliveries.

My transporter takes 10 MT [metric tonnes], dropping 2 MT in every hospital, like a milkman,” Jain said. “Midway during deliveries it gets an SOS call and is diverted...We haven’t slept in seven days, please issue directions to us.”

Inox informed the court that some of its tankers were stopped by the Rajasthan government and not yet released.

The court appealed to states to refrain from obstructing transport of oxygen tankers to the national Capital. “Intervention in the matter of supply of oxygen would tantamount to endangering hundreds of human lives,” it said.

After hearing submissions from various parties, the court directed Delhi chief secretary to hold a meeting with hospitals, oxygen suppliers and re-fillers to work out the modalities on the supply of the gas.

The court asked all oxygen re-fillers in Delhi to be present for the hearing on Tuesday on the black marketing of the gas. The aspect of shortages of Covid-19 medicines will also be looked into during the proceedings, the court said.

Meanwhile, hearing a separate petition, the Delhi High Court on Monday asked the Aam Aadmi Party government to set up more testing centres in the city, reported PTI. A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh also asked the Delhi government to put in place necessary infrastructure to streamline the sample collection process.

The direction was issued by the court after several lawyers told the bench that they were facing difficulty in getting tested as labs were saying they will carry out sample collection after two to three days. The lawyers claimed that the number of daily tests have gone down to around 60,000 from over one lakh.