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"State Has failed to protect the right to life under Article 21": Delhi HC on oxygen shortage in the Capital

oxygen shortage Capital Delhi HC

At present,  India is scuffling to move large quantities of medical oxygen to hospitals in its capital, New Delhi and other areas hit hard by the Covid-19 surge.

Oxygen is not reaching hospital beds on time because of the distance between the production units and the demanding areas. Now that Covid-19 cases are surging in Delhi’s neighbouring states i.e., Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the oxygen facilities and providers are over-stretched in attempting to meet the demands of the patients.

To fulfil Delhi’s current requirements, additional medical oxygen has to be brought in from industrial zones in eastern India. The facilities from where Delhi will now receive oxygen are spread across seven states, some more than 1,000 km away, according to reports.

In recent days, as a scramble for oxygen among states worsened, local officials in some regions were also accused of disrupting the movement of tankers in a bid to keep supplies for themselves.

The bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli of Delhi High Court took account of the matter by hearing a bunch of cases on oxygen shortage in the capital's fight against Covid-19. 

To this effect, the court passed a series of orders in different matters after hearing submissions by the counsel for Maharaja Agrasen Hospital, Jaipur Golden Hospital, Batra Hospital and Saroj Super Speciality Hospital over the shortage of oxygen for treating seriously-ill COVID patients.

The Delhi High Court stated that the state has put the basic fundamental right i.e., right to life, contained under Article 21, at stake./The highlights of its order are as follows:

  • The court held that black marketing and hoarding of essential supplies such as medicines and oxygen tankers, should be stopped and seizures must be made. 
  • It also added that after seizures, immediately the release and distribution of such supplies must be ensured such that, artificial scarcity is not created.
  • It also advised to form WhatsApp Groups of suppliers of oxygen concentrators and cylinders, medicines, daily essential supplies and other such needs so as to ensure better coordination and communication
  • The court also questioned the Centre about inadequate supply of oxygen at Delhi to which the representative Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, responded that the Delhi Government did not arrange for tankers to be re-filled. To this the representative of the Delhi government informed the court that perhaps, officials at the central, state or local administration obstructing the pickup of oxygen supplies.
  • Delhi government representative, Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra, told that many hospitals that have a long association with oxygen suppliers have been refused supply.

Meanwhile, the Centre was also questioned by the Supreme Court about the shortage of liquid oxygen, emergency medicines and health infrastructural issues faced by different states. To this, the Centre responded, "There is no shortage of medical oxygen in the country, supply being augmented for COVID-19 relief.” 

The apex court questioned the government about the pricing of vaccines and advised it to consider a National Immunisation Programme for various vaccines and also think about providing free vaccination to all citizens. "Private vaccine manufacturers cannot be allowed to decide which state should get how much", it added.

Further, it said no state should clampdown information if citizens communicate their grievances on social media. “Clampdown of information hereafter would be considered as contempt of court and such acts would call strict actions,” it said.

The Supreme Court observed that even doctors and healthcare workers are not getting beds and that the situation is grim. It directed hostels, temples, churches and other places to be opened for converting them as Covid care centres after taking stock of the Covid situation in the country.

It further added that the Centre has more responsibility towards Delhi as Delhi represents micro problems of the country. It represents people coming around from states and the Centre is obligated to save lives even if Delhi is unable to lift. 

The Supreme Court directed the Centre to immediately allocate the required and demanded liquid oxygen at Delhi and neighbouring states and to handle the situation carefully.

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