The Supreme Court on Friday urged the Delhi government to ensure cooperation with the Centre and refrain from indulging in politics while dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, reported NDTV. The court also lauded the work of government officials to tackle the pandemic.
The comments came as India struggles to keep up with the rising demand of medical oxygen. The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented rise in the demand for beds, ventilators, oxygen supplies and drugs as hospitals struggle to hold together the country’s healthcare infrastructure.
“We want to send a message to the Delhi government that it must take the approach of cooperation,” the Supreme Court bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat said. “Please send message to the highest level that at extreme times, there should not be any political bickering. Politics is for the time of elections. Now the citizens’ lives are at stake.”
Justice Chandrachud observed that the population of Delhi represented the entire country as there were “hardly one ethnically Delhite”, reported Live Law. “Delhi represents the nation and there is hardly any one ethnically Delhite. Forget about someone not lifting oxygen. You have to push through since you have to save lives, Mr Solicitor [Mehta]. You have a special responsibility as the Centre.”
The court made the remarks during the proceedings of a suo motu case on the management of the coronavirus pandemic. Following this, the Delhi government and the Centre’s advocates said that the court’s observations will be followed.
The observations came after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta claimed that there was no oxygen shortage. “But availability in some areas might be deficient because of inadequate lifting by states,” Mehta said, according to Live Law.
Mehta also said that 10,000 metric tonnes of oxygen is available when the Supreme Court bench highlighted that the average demand was 8,500 metric tonnes.
Justice Chandrachud pointed out that Delhi was provided 490 metric tonnes of oxygen though the revised demand was 700 metric tonnes. “If there is a 200 metric tonne deficit then you should give that straight away to Delhi,” the judge added. “As a national authority which has a responsibility to the national Capital you are answerable to the citizens. You have said surplus is there in steel sector, then use that and supply to Delhi.”
Meanwhile, Justice Bhat asked why of the 162 approved Pressure Swing Adsorption plants only around 30 have started. To this, Sumita Dawra, a senior central government officer, said that the Union health ministry would be better placed to speak on the matter.
It takes four to six weeks to install a PSA oxygen plant, industry executives told Scroll.in. However, four months after the contracts were given, only 33 of the 162 PSA oxygen plants were installed.
Pressure Swing Adsorption plants can enable hospitals for in-situ generation of oxygen, the Union health ministry has said.
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A Scroll.in investigation revealed that the Central government took eight months to float a tender, and six months later, PSA oxygen plants were operational in only five of the 60 hospitals we called. Hours after the report was published, the health ministry admitted that only 33 of the 162 PSA oxygen plants it had commissioned had been installed.
During the hearing on Friday, Dawra said that the Centre was trying to strike a balance since supplying oxygen to one state meant redirecting it from another region. This, she said, could lead to allegations of bias, reported NDTV.
“We fire-fight on a daily basis...yesterday, the Dehradun oxygen plant tripped; Inox also tripped. And we have to manage the supplies,” Dawra said. “We are facing challenges and every two hours the situation changes. Though I am Covid-positive, we have continuously updated the plan in consultation with states.”
Meanwhile, during a media briefing on India’s coronavirus situation on Friday, the Union health ministry said that as of April 30, at least 52 plants were already installed of the 162 approved.