The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed a Delhi High Court contempt notice to the Centre for failure to implement an order on immediate supply of full quota of oxygen to the Capital city during the coronavirus crisis, Live Law reported.

This came a day after Delhi High Court’s Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli issued a show-cause notice to the Centre, asking it to explain why a contempt action should not be initiated against it in connection with oxygen shortages.

A special Supreme Court bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud said that there should be cooperation as lives of people are at stake. However, he added, “Ultimately putting officers in jail and hauling them up for contempt will not help.”

Chandrachud clarified that the move to put the contempt notice on hold was not meant to restrain the High Court from monitoring the allocation of oxygen to Delhi.

The court directed the Centre to place a comprehensive plan by 10.30 am on Thursday indicating how it will comply and provide 700 metric tonnes of oxygen to Delhi. It also sought details on provisions of transportation and other logistical arrangements necessary to fulfil the requirement.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehra told the court that both the Delhi government and the Centre were “doing their best” to tackle the worsening health crisis. “We are in the process of [allocating] 700 metric tonnes [of oxygen],” Mehta said. “Yesterday [on May 4] we could reach 585 tonnes. The allotted quantity was 590, but we stretched.”

Justice MR Shah, who was part of the bench, asked for how long this allocated quantity of oxygen will last. Mehta said the oxygen supply will help for 24 hours.

“We accept your interpretation of the order, but why does your ASG [Additional Solicitor General] say that it has not been asked for,” Chandrachud asked. “After the Supreme Court order, the effort has to be to comply.”

The court sought to know what the government’s plan was to resolve the crisis. “Nobody can dispute that this is not a national pandemic, that people are not dying, that the central government is not doing anything,” Shah said. “If you get oxygen from other state, they will also be needing it. It won’t be fair to them. What is your plan for distribution?”

Mehta told the judges that officers of the Delhi government were working overnight and “shoulder to shoulder” with the Centre, according to Bar and Bench. But the solicitor general said a pan-Indian solution was needed as allocation of oxygen “cannot be on sweet will of the Centre or states”.

Mehta informed the court that the Centre had devised a formula applicable for the entire country. “I’m not going back from my statement. The figure by Delhi government for 700 [metric tonnes of oxygen] is not justified. Every state has demanded more, but allocation is based on this formula.”

Justice Chandrachud, however, sought to know if such a formula could be universally applicable. “The formula is a based on assumptions,” he added. “That 100% ICU beds require oxygen and 50% beds require oxygen. This is not the state in every state. What’s happening in Odisha may be very different from the state of the pandemic in Maharashtra or Delhi.”

The judge said the Centre cannot make a general assessment for India as the pandemic was peaking at different times in states and that demand needs to be evaluated on real-time basis. “There is tremendous pressure on citizens to get cylinders and oxygen,” he added. “If you can showcase the time of arrival, the amount of oxygen, please put it up upfront and publicise. So that citizens know.”

Chandrachud also noted that that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation was doing great work in managing the pandemic. “What are they doing, how are they managing...I understand that Maharashtra also produces oxygen, which Delhi can’t do,” he said. “If you draw from experience and figure out how the holding corporations can be done in Delhi...Then we will have a module for Delhi in place based on the successful model in Bombay, which is a large metropolis.”

Agreeing with Chandrachud’s observation, Mehta also praised the “Mumbai model”, which he said was not a political one. “We requested Bombay to send us the model so that we could tell other states to emulate the same,” he said.

Oxygen crisis

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

On Sunday, a children’s hospital was among at least three institutions that raised an alarm that it was running out of oxygen. On April 30, as many as 12 patients, including a senior doctor, had died at Batra Hospital due to oxygen shortage.

On April 24, at least 20 coronavirus patients in Delhi died after the hospital treating them ran out of oxygen. Authorities at the Jaipur Golden Hospital said that another 200 lives were at risk as they had supplies to last only half-an-hour.