New Delhi: The Delhi High Court Monday continued its day-to-day hearing on petitions and applications filed on various aspects of Covid-19 management in Delhi, including oxygen supply and transport, and RT-PCR testing.
During a three-and-a-half-hour-long hearing on the oxygen crisis in Delhi, the bench comprising Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli directed all the refillers of oxygen cylinders in the national capital to be present at the hearing Tuesday following complaints of non-availability of oxygen gas cylinders and black marketing.
In the meantime, the court directed all refillers to ensure that the refilled cylinders are supplied according to Delhi government’s directions and that all such supplies should be accounted for. Any violation, it said, would lead to strict action against them.
The court also took note of the allegation made by oxygen supplier INOX that four of its oxygen tankers with Haryana number plates were seized by Rajasthan authorities. INOX, which has also been put in charge of transporting part of the oxygen supply to Delhi from other firms, cited this as the reason for not being able to send those tankers for transporting oxygen from Air Liquide and Linde for Delhi.
During the hearing, the court was told that when the central government officers spoke to the chief secretary in Rajasthan, they were informed that this was done because they were short of tankers and hence, were forced to take such an action.
The central government promised action against those responsible for it, with Solicitor General Tushar Mehta saying that “this will be an example for other states”.
While the tankers have not been released yet, Mehta assured the court that they would be freed soon.
“We hope and expect the State of Rajasthan to honour the orders passed by the Central government and the court. An obstruction in the matter of supply of medical oxygen at this stage would tantamount to endangering hundreds of human lives, if not more … Stoppage of tankers will have a snowballing effect and would certainly impact the concerned state itself, the court said.
‘Bureaucratic machinery of Delhi has failed’
During the hearing, senior advocate Sachin Dutta appearing for Jaipur Golden Hospital told the court that “the bureaucratic machinery of Delhi government has completely failed”, and that the oxygen supply chain was being disrupted by the Delhi government.
Meanwhile, oxygen supplier INOX told the court that it was facing difficulties and demanded that it should be given clarity on the supply chain and allocation of resources.
The court, therefore, directed the Delhi Chief Secretary, who was present at the hearing, to hold a meeting with all stakeholders — oxygen suppliers, refillers, hospitals and government officials — at 5 pm Monday, to work out a distribution plan. The resolution arrived at in the meeting needs to be placed before the court Tuesday.
On the issue of RT-PCR tests, the Delhi High Court noted that it had directed the central government to prioritise custom clearance of imported equipment for the tests. While the court was told by the Centre that directions have been issued to customs officers in this regard and that the government will call for a report from the authorities too, the bench demanded to see a report on how many such imports are pending and the duration for which they are being held up at the ports.
However, on Solicitor General Mehta’s objection to the report being made public, the court directed that it be submitted to it in a sealed cover in three days.
‘States should only look for procuring tankers, not oxygen’
The court also took note of a letter written by the Delhi government to Sajjan Jindal, chairman of the JSW group. The central government claimed that the letter was for procurement of any spare oxygen from the corporate group and asserted that oxygen procurement should only be done at the national level.
Mehta asserted that state governments should only look for procurement of tankers and not for oxygen, and that if there is any extra/spare oxygen, then it has to be surrendered to the central government.
In response, senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government, sought the court’s permission to inform the central government of any extra/spare oxygen that they may become aware of. However, Solicitor General Mehta objected to this, saying, “The central government has information on all industries, we don’t want anybody to inform us.”
Mehra also told the court that communication will be restricted only for scouting cryogenic tankers from across the country.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)