The Delhi High Court on Thursday ordered stringent punishment for local authorities found blocking the movement of medical oxygen to the National Capital. A Bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said that officers responsible for any such blockade "shall be held criminally liable".
The court also noted that the Centre's allocation of oxygen for Delhi from plants in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh "was not being respected by the local administration" in those states.
The Bench was hearing a petition filed by the Saroj Super Specialty Hospital seeking "urgent critical supply of oxygen" on Thursday, Livelaw reported. The report added that another hospital also moved the court during the same hearing and said that it has only three hours of oxygen left.
On Thursday, the Delhi government also informed the court about the progress on procuring oxygen from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, PTI reported. It submitted that the oxygen that was to be received from a factory in Haryana's Panipat was not being allowed to be picked up by the local police, and that similar obstacles were being faced in Uttar Pradesh.
Taking note of these submissions, the court told the Centre, "We have been informed that the plants are not honoring the allocations made as they have been taken over by locals. Also, three of the plants are too far. So you should ensure that your allocations are honoured. What is the point of paper allocation (of oxygen) if they are not being allowed to transport?"
"We put everyone to notice that non-compliance of the orders would also invite criminal action. We direct the Central government to ensure that the supply from all oxygen-producing plants, as per the allocation order, is made and transportation takes place without any hindrance. We direct the Central government to ensure that adequate security is provided to the trucks transporting the oxygen and that there is no obstruction. A special corridor may be created for immediate transportation of oxygen," the Bench's order was quoted as saying by Bar and Bench.
During the hearing, Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta told the Bench, "If there is any roadblock by any individuals or any officers, the officers have been instructed that if they are involved in any such activity they will be departmentally dealt with".
"We must respond with a sense of urgency and sense of responsibility which the situation demands," Mehta said, and added that he will take instructions on the concerns raised by the Delhi government.
On Wednesday, the Centre had announced that it will raise its allocation of oxygen to the National Capital from 370 MT to 480 MT. On Thursday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that the Union Home Ministry had passed an order under the Disaster Management Act to aid the transport of medical oxygen.
During the hearing on Thursday, the Delhi High Court also said that while the Supreme Court had taken suo motu cognisance of the COVID-19 situation, it could not adjourn the ongoing hearing.
"Till the matter goes to the Supreme Court, this is not a matter we can adjourn."
With regard to Delhi government's suggestion to transport oxygen by air, the Bench said research by its legal researchers has shown that airlifting of oxygen was very dangerous and it has to be transported either by road or rail.
In an extraordinary hearing held on Wednesday night, the HC had issued strong strictures against the Central government and private industries, and had ordered the Centre to "forthwith" provide oxygen by whatever means to hospitals in Delhi facing shortage in treating serious COVID-19 patients.
"You are not exploring all avenues to augment oxygen supply. Beg, borrow or steal," the court told the Centre, and asked why it was not waking up to the gravity of the emergency situation. It also warned that "certainly all hell will break loose" with the stoppage of medical oxygen to the hospitals.
The observations and directions by the court came during hearing of a plea filed by Balaji Medical and Research Centre, which owns and runs various hospitals in the name of Max, contending that if supply of oxygen is not replenished on an immediate basis, the lives of the patients who are critical and on oxygen support will be endangered.
With inputs from PTI