New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Saturday asked the Centre about the preparedness to deal with the expected COVID-19 second wave peak in mid-May, terming the mounting cases as a ‘tsunami’, and also warned it will “hang” any person who tries to obstruct oxygen supplies to hospitals here.
Talking tough, a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said this during a special three-hour long hearing on a holiday on the issue of escalating oxygen crisis in various hospitals in Delhi.
The court said the viral disease has a low mortality and those who have a low immunity will eventually die but the problem comes when people who could be saved are also dying. “The mortality rate needs to be reduced.”
Referring to a study by a team of scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, the court noted its assessment that the peak of this COVID wave will come in mid-May.
“We are calling it a wave, it is actually a tsunami,” the court said, and asked the Centre about the preparedness in terms of infrastructure, hospitals, medical staff, medicines, vaccines and oxygen as on date for the peak.
It asked the Centre and the Delhi government to submit a report by April 26, the next date of hearing, with regard to the national capital on the augmentation of the medical infrastructure — like beds, oxygen, ventilators, medical staff and medicines — to deal with the expected peak of the COVID pandemic.
Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said there might be a rapid rise in the number of cases in May and June and the country needs to be ready for the worst.
He said the Prime Minister and others are working on it and have decided to import oxygen and are also exploring the remotest possibility of generating oxygen from wherever it is possible.
The court was hearing submissions by the counsel for Maharaja Agrasen Hospital, Jaipur Golden Hospital, Batra Hospital and Saroj Super Speciality Hospital here over shortage of oxygen for treating seriously-ill COVID patients.
“You rest assured that we will hang that man. We will not spare anyone,” the court said while telling the Delhi government to give one instance of any official at the central, state or local administration obstructing the pickup of oxygen supplies.
The court told the Delhi government to inform the Centre also about such officials of the local administration so that it could take action against them.
It noted the problem that Delhi continues to face arises primarily on account of the fact that supply of oxygen even at the allocated rate is not taking place.
With regard to the “dire need” for oxygen by these hospitals, which claimed they will run out of the same in less than an hour, the court asked the Delhi government to take into account the petitioner hospitals requirements also while distributing the oxygen received by Delhi.
The court also directed the suppliers and re-fillers of oxygen to give to the Delhi government nodal officer the details of the oxygen supplied by them to the various hospitals in the national capital, saying “there has to be transparency” on this aspect.
It said the information shall include how much oxygen was supplied to each hospital and when.
A direction was also issued to the Delhi government to communicate to all the hospitals and nursing homes in the national capital the details of its new team — comprising 10 IAS and 28 DANIPS officers — constituted for monitoring the oxygen distribution in the national capital.
The court also asked the Centre when the 480 metric tonne (MT) of oxygen per day allocated for Delhi would see the light of the day.
“You (Centre) had assured us (on April 21) that 480 MT per day will reach Delhi. Tell us when will it come? We want a definitive date. The 480 MT per day is still to see the light of the day, the bench said, adding that citizens of Delhi cannot be left to die like this.
The query came after the Delhi government said it was getting only 380 MT oxygen per day over the past few days and it received only around 300 MT on Friday.
The central government said one of the reasons for the shortage in supply was due to the Delhi government not providing cryogenic tankers for picking up liquid oxygen.
Delhi government, represented by senior advocate Rahul Mehra, told the court that it was not an industrial state and therefore, did not have access to such tankers.
The SG said various states are making arrangements for converting existing tankers for storage of oxygen or are procuring the same from other sources and the Delhi government too should make endeavours in that direction.
The court questioned the Delhi government officers as to what endeavours they have made to secure tankers to get the supply of oxygen allocated to it by the Centre.
The court directed the Delhi government to take steps to procure the tankers, saying it should not leave it entirely on the central government. The Centre and Delhi government should work together on this issue, it said.
The court also asked the Delhi government to go over the national allocation plan for oxygen and give suggestions on re-working it, so that the national capital can get oxygen from nearby sources and the suppliers allocated to it can supply to other states.
The suggestion by the court came in view of the fact that three of the sources of oxygen supply for Delhi are located in West Bengal and Odisha and transportation from there via Railways would take time.
The SG said the allocation plan was a “floating plan” and can be looked into again as “nothing is cast in stone”. “Whatever permutation and combination is possible, is being done,” he told the court.