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'Can’t allow court to become ground of recrimination between Centre and Delhi': Supreme Court over question of oxygen supply to the national capital

By Shreyas Nair      10 May, 2021 05:01 PM      0 Comments
'Can’t allow court to become ground of recrimination between Centre and Delhi': Supreme Court over question of oxygen supply to the national capital

The Supreme Court said on Thursday (May 6, 2021) that it would not encourage the country's highest court to become a point of contention between the Centre and the Delhi government over the question of oxygen distribution and supply to the national capital.

Both Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, and senior advocate Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, were warned by a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and M R Shah, who said everybody should work together. 

"We're making it clear that this isn't going to be a battle. We would not allow this constitutional court to be used as a point of contention between two governments. We would not tolerate any retaliation against the Delhi government or the central government. Everything we ask is for everybody to work together in a cooperative manner "Mehta and Mehra were informed by the bench.

Despite the top court's order, Mehra said that the Centre did not distribute the required amount of oxygen to Delhi, and that even on Thursday, the supply is not 700MT as per their estimates. He said that the Centre has sought to implicate the Delhi government in any affidavit filed in court, and that other states, such as Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, have been given more oxygen than their demands.

At the outset, Mehta told the bench that the Centre had complied with the top court's order, ensuring a supply of 730 MT of oxygen to Delhi on Wednesday (May 5, 2021) to treat Covid-19 patients instead of the 700 MT requested. On May 4, he said, a survey of 56 major hospitals in the national capital revealed that they had a large stock of liquid medical oxygen (LMO).

Mehta said that he is not blaming anybody, but that the unloading of oxygen tankers arriving in Delhi is taking too long, which is inconvenient since these specialised vehicles must be returned to the eastern corridor for refilling. He said that two Oxygen Express trains are in transit, but that given the pan-India condition, if the Centre continues to provide 700MT of oxygen to Delhi, it would deprive other states of equal distribution because the 700MT demand is incorrect.

According to Mehra, the Centre stated in its affidavit filed with the Supreme Court that there is no shortage of oxygen in the country and that they have a reserve of 16,000 MT, so a shortfall of 210 MT of oxygen would not harm other states. He said that the Centre approved Delhi's demand for 700 MT of oxygen, but that only 510 MT of the gas was delivered to them, and that after delivering 730 MT on Wednesday, the supply is being reduced to 566 MT. "This court does not authorise the supply to be reduced since it would be a breach of the court's April 30 order, which we must say is not being enforced in letter and spirit." This court should ensure that the supply is maintained at 700MT," Mehra said.

People are dying in Delhi due to a lack of oxygen in hospitals, he added, and the Centre should not be able to dilute the supply, either directly or indirectly, and the Union government's solemn promise to the court that the demand for gas will be fulfilled should be pursued. "If an audit of Oxygen supply is to be made, then it should be done on the allocation policy of the Centre which in our view is arbitrary. The audit of tankers should also be done as these vehicles are national assets," He went on to say that there should be no distribution based solely on documents. Mehra added that certain COVID-19 patients can need more oxygen than the Centre anticipates, whether in oxygenated or non-oxygenated beds, and that the exact allocation and need must be determined. "If at all a committee is to be formed for auditing the supply and demand of Oxygen, it should have representatives from top five-affected states," Mehra said, adding they have started installing GPS on tankers to track the vehicles.

He said the Delhi government is also in the process of developing an app by which a COVID-19 patient in home requiring refilling of oxygen cylinders can register himself-herself and make a request after which the administration will deliver it.There should not be any presupposition that there is a certain government in the state and it is not doing its job. 

Despite appearing to be non-adversarial, Mehta, for the Centre, told the bench that the Delhi government counsel has made the problem adversarial "If I had to respond to all of the charges, it would make me feel small. I choose not to engage in those debates because I have to consider both of the nations, he said while adding that it has turned the problem into a war between the Centre and Delhi.

According to him, the oxygen allocation policy was formulated after a thorough review and careful consideration. "I previously mentioned that there was a systemic collapse in Delhi due to a lack of oxygen supply. This is not to say that we oppose the state government or the political leadership. Delhi is not only the country's capital, but also its public face. It has a unique status, "Mehta explained. 

Senior Amicus Curiae attorneys Jaideep Gupta and Meenakshi Arora stated that a scientifically based futuristic strategy is needed to ensure that the nation is not overwhelmed when the third wave of COVID.

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