The Centre on Sunday moved the Delhi High Court seeking recall of its order directing supply of entire allocated oxygen of 490 metric tonnes (MT) to the national capital and warning of contempt action for failure to do so. The central government in its application seeking recall of the high court’s May 1 order said its officials are working hard and such orders would have a demoralising effect on them.
Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta told a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli that the Delhi government has been found ‘completely wanting in making any efforts whatsoever to arrange for the transport of the quantity allocated to it except for a few tankers”.
On May 1, anguished by the deaths of eight COVID-19 patients, including a doctor, at the Batra Hospital here due to a shortage of oxygen, the court had directed the Centre to ensure that the national capital receives its allocated share of 490 MT of the life-saving gas during the day and said “enough is enough”, “much water has gone above the head”.
The bench had said the Centre has to ensure that Delhi receives its allocated amount of oxygen “by whatever means” and warned that failure to do so could lead to contempt action The Centre, in its application, has alleged “whatever oxygen is being supplied in Delhi is also not being distributed and utilised in a judicious manner causing serious risk to the lives of residents of Delhi”.
“It was categorically and unequivocally understood by all state governments, including the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD), that it will be the responsibility of each state government to provide for transport and thereby ensure that the said state receives the allocated supply for being distributed within the state,” the Centre’s application has also said.
Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government, opposed the contentions in the application, saying the allocated amount of oxygen was never made available to the national capital.
Terming the application as “uncalled for”, Mehra said Delhi government officers were working very hard and were “stretched beyond their limits” and if allegations of incompetence are made against them, they will have a nervous breakdown.
He also said that oxygen supplier Linde refused to use around 15 tankers that the Delhi government was trying to procure from Adani as they were used for transporting hydrocarbons.
He said that Linde was told the tankers would be cleaned properly, however, they “refused point blank’. Mehra said that let the Centre take over all tankers, like they took over oxygen plants, and distribute it equally among states.
The SG said there is a systemic failure as hospitals are approaching court at the last moment regarding running out of their oxygen. He said there should be a system where the hospitals inform the Delhi government hours in advance when they will run out of oxygen, so that no one has to come to the court at the last moment.
If there is a system, then lawyers would not have to burn the midnight oil attending SOS calls of hospitals. The SG said that tankers cannot be nationalised, and states have to work towards getting tankers as even Lakshadweep has managed to get tankers.
The Centre, in its application, has further contended that “rather than discharging its constitutional, statutory and humanitarian duties and obligations in the times of the present crisis, the GNCTD seems to be channelling most of its energies in creating a facade to cover up its complete incompetence/incapacity, especially at the end of the last mile delivery”.
“The Delhi government has not made any serious attempt nor has ever approached the Ministry of Road Transport, Union of India, for temporary help or assistance for transportation of oxygen,” the application, filed through central government standing counsel Amit Mahajan, has said.
The central government has also said that if every state government stops their efforts and starts expressing their complete helplessness in helping the residents residing within it and starts requesting the high courts of each state to direct the Centre to provide oxygen at its doorsteps, “it can only result in a chaotic situation across the country”.
“The Delhi government representative even failed to attend the specific meeting called for distribution of available additional containers scheduled by the Ministry of Road Transport on April 29,” it has also said.
With regard to the Delhi government’s proposed import of cryogenic tankers from Thailand, the SG said that after the Centre agreed to help in lifting those tankers through Airforce aircraft, nothing was heard from the Delhi government thereafter with regard to specific details like the date of airlifting, bill of loading. “Till date, the central government has not received any communication regarding the import of containers reflected in the letter dated April 26,” the Centre has said.