Arvind Kejriwal
Arvind Kejriwal
Photo: PTI

It is panic stations in the national Capital with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday besieging the Centre to rush medical oxygen supplies, saying some hospitals are going to run out of it in a few hours.

A case in point was Sir Ganga Ram hospital, which said in a statement it has only 6,000 cubic meters of Oxygen left. “This, at the current rate of consumption, can only last till 1 am. Need urgent replenishment.”

Max hospital, too, sent out an SOS saying its supplies are at a low ebb and it has only six to 12 hours' worth of oxygen left.

The matter landed in the Delhi High Court, which pulled up the Centre, questioning why it was waiting till April 22 to ban oxygen use for industrial use and divert it for Covid patients. "Economic interests can't override human lives. Else we are heading for a disaster," the court said.

The Centre gave a rather absurd argument, contending that private hospitals give excess oxygen to patients for "psychological purposes", leading to misuse. All states including Delhi have been advised to rationalize the use of oxygen and not administer oxygen to patients who do not clinically need it, the Centre said.

While the hearing was on, media sources said Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also tweeted on the crisis: "A serious crisis persists in Delhi. I again urge the Centre to urgently provide oxygen. Some hospitals are left with just a few hours of supplies.’’

The Delhi High Court judges said they had heard doctors at Ganga Ram Hospital saying they were being forced to tweak oxygen supply to Covid patients because of the scarcity.

Responding to Delhi's allegations of discrimination in supply, the High Court said if medicines were not being sent to places that really needed them, "blood is on their hands". The Delhi government had alleged in court that it was falling short of oxygen because supplies were being diverted to "one of the largest states" of the country. Delhi did not take names, saying it could become political.

The court has issued notice to INOX, which produces oxygen, as to why contempt action be not initiated against it for not complying with court orders to supply oxygen and directed the presence of the company's Managing Director on the next date of hearing on April 22.

The court also sought the presence of the Uttar Pradesh government on the next date. The direction came after senior advocate Rahul Mehra told the bench that INOX did not supply oxygen as directed by the court claiming that doing so would lead to a law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh from where the supply was to come.

The court in its order also directed the Centre to meet the representatives of the steel and petrochemical industries to divert some portion of their oxygen supplies for medical needs to tide over the prevailing pandemic. The court said these industries can reduce their production for now and if the lockdown continues then everything would come to a halt; therefore, what would be the need for steel, petrol and diesel during such a situation.

The court cited the example of a central government counsel whose father was admitted in hospital and was on oxygen support, but due its scarcity, oxygen was being provided at a reduced pressure to him to conserve it. "Can you ask him to hold on till April 22," the court asked. It said if nothing was done, then "we are heading for a bigger disaster". "We might end up losing nearly a crore of people. Are we willing to accept that," the bench demanded?

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