The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday held that death of coronavirus patients due to shortages of oxygen at hospitals was a “criminal act” and “not less than a genocide” Live Law reported.

A bench of Justices Ajit Kumar and Siddhartha Varma was hearing a suo motu case on handling of the pandemic in Uttar Pradesh and made the observations based on news reports and social media posts about death of Covid-19 patients in Lucknow and Meerut. The court ordered an inquiry into the incidents and asked the district authorities to submit a report within 48 hours.

The court took cognisance of an incident where five patients had died in the Intensive Care Unit of a trauma centre of Medical College in Meerut due to lack of oxygen supply, Bar and Bench reported. “Similarly, news were also being viralled that one Sun Hospital, Gomti Nagar, Lucknow and another private hospital at Meerut had taken their hands off the admitted Covid patients only for the reason that oxygen supply was not made even after demand,” the court observed.

The bench referred to videos related to the incident which went viral on social media and noted that the situation was contrary to the state government’s claim that there was sufficient supply of oxygen. The order added that while the court would not have usually asked the state or district administration to inquire into a matter based merely on news circulated on social media, but here the lawyers appearing in the case have submitted that the situation was similar in other districts too.

“How can we let our people die in this way when science is so advanced that even heart transplantation and brain surgery are taking place these days,” the court asked, according to Live Law.

During Tuesday’s hearing, advocate Anuj Singh submitted to the court that a portal created by the Adityanath-led government to show availability of beds in Covid-19 wards and Intensive Care Units in hospitals showed incorrect data. Singh tried to contact a hospital in Lucknow asking for beds during the court proceedings itself. While he could get through to the hopsital after repeated attempts, the medical facility said that they had no “Level-2 and Level-3” beds available, even as the portal displayed that they were vacant, Bar and Bench reported.

In a previous hearing of the case, the Allahabad High Court had issued a notice to the state election commission on the reported death of 135 polling officers due to the coronavirus during panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh. On Tuesday, the court noted that the response submitted on the matter included nothing more than verification from district officials.

The High Court’s observations on supply of oxygen is an addition to the list of similar orders passed by other courts as well. On Tuesday, the Delhi High Court issued a show-cause notice to the central government asking why contempt action should not be initiated against it for not complying with its orders on oxygen supply to the Capital. Last week, the Supreme Court had issued a notice to the Centre and sought a “national plan” on oxygen and drug supply to coronavirus patients. The Karnataka High Court also suggested a judicial inquiry after 24 patients died on Sunday in Chamarajanagar district hospital allegedly due to lack of oxygen supply.

A devastating second wave of coronavirus in India has led to widespread shortages of medical oxygen and medicines in Delhi and several other states.