The Supreme Court on Sunday asked the Centre to rectify the oxygen problem that several Delhi hospitals are facing on or before Monday. It also ordered the Centre to create a buffer stock of oxygen along with a list of states from where it can be used if the regular supply chain is disrupted.

“We direct the central government in collaboration with the states to prepare a buffer stock of oxygen to be used for emergency purposes to ensure supply lines continue to function even in unforeseen circumstances,” read the court’s order released on Sunday night.

“The location of the emergency stocks shall be decentralised so as to be immediately available if the normal supply chain is disrupted to any hospital for any reason,” it said. “The emergency stocks shall be created within the next four days. The replenishment of the emergency stocks will also be monitored on a real-time basis through the virtual control room in active consultation with each state/UT.”

The court was hearing a suo motu case on the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. During the last hearing on April 30, the court has reserved its order in the matter.

In its order, the top court also asked the Centre to formulate a national policy on hospital admission within two weeks, which has to be followed by state governments. “Till the formulation of such a policy by the central government, no patient shall be denied hospitalisation or essential drugs in any state/UT for lack of local residential proof of that state/UT or even in the absence of identity proof,” read the order.

The court also asked the Centre and state governments to notify all chief secretaries, directors general of police and commissioners of police that there should be no clampdown of information on social media.

Vaccine policy detrimental to right to health

The court also observed that the manner in which the Centre’s current vaccine policy has been framed was prima facie detrimental to Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, or the right to health, according to LiveLaw. – right to life and personal liberty. “We believe that the central government should consider revisiting its current vaccine policy to ensure that it withstands the scrutiny of Articles 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution,” the order read.

The matter will be heard next on May 10.

‘Black-marketing condemnable attempt to exploit misery’

The court also noted that many drugs used to treat Covid-19 patients were being sold at inflated prices or “in fake form”.

“This court would like to take judicial notice of the fact that several critical drugs, used to treat Covid-19, such as remdesivir and tocilizumab, are being sold at significantly inflated prices or in fake form,” the bench said. “This is a condemnable attempt to exploit people’s misery and profit from their helplessness.”

The Supreme Court also advised the Centre to set up a special team to identity and prosecute those involved in selling medical oxygen at high prices, and fake items. “A protocol for ambulances must also be evolved to avoid citizens being exploited by extracting unconscionable charges,” it added.

The Centre could consider creating a grievance redressal platform, the bench added.

Oxygen crisis

India is currently in the middle of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Cases are increasing at an alarming rate. Amid an unprecedented surge in cases in India, the country’s healthcare infrastructure is under severe strain. There is a shortage of beds, ventilators, medicines, coronavirus vaccines and oxygen supplies.

On Sunday, at least three hospitals in Delhi sent out desperate pleas for oxygen as their stocks of the life-saving gas dwindled during the spiralling coronavirus pandemic. On Saturday, 12 patients, including a doctor, died in the city’s Batra Hospital after oxygen ran out for more than an hour at the private facility. This was the third such incident within a week’s time.

On April 24, at least 20 coronavirus patients in Delhi died after the Jaipur Golden Hospital ran out of oxygen. A day earlier, 25 “sickest” coronavirus patients died overnight at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in the city amid a last-minute scramble for oxygen.

Taking note of the deaths at Batra Hospital, the Delhi High Court directed the Centre to provide Delhi 490 metric tonnes of oxygen, the quota allocated for the city. The court observed that since the allocation for Delhi was made on April 20, the requirement has not been met on a single day.

India on Sunday recorded 3,92,488 new coronavirus cases, taking the overall infection count in the country to 1,95,57,457 since the pandemic first broke out in January last year. The daily surge in cases is slightly lower than that of Saturday’s when India reported over 4 lakh cases for the first time. The toll climbed by 3,689 to 2,15,542.

Also read:

  1. How grave is India’s oxygen emergency? Worse than the government admits
  2. Fact check: Did states fail to use PM-Cares funds allocated by the Centre to build oxygen plants?
  3. India is running out of oxygen, Covid-19 patients are dying – because the government wasted time