The Delhi high court on Tuesday asked the Indian government to divert the unutilised tankers of oxygen to Delhi from states like Maharashtra where the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) situation is improving.
"If the need for oxygen and tankers has depleted in Maharashtra, they could be diverted to Delhi. This is not a permanent arrangement. Whenever the need arises again, you can send them back," the Delhi high court said, acknowledging a suggestion from the amicus curiae.
Additional solicitor general (ASG) Chetan Sharma assured the high court bench that the central government is already considering the possibility of diverting oxygen cylinders to Delhi from other states and that the same would be done.
A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli also came down heavily on the Indian govt over the shortage in oxygen supply in the national capital. The high court bench said that the Centre must ensure that oxygen reaches Delhi, according to the instructions issued by the Supreme Court earlier.
The bench said that it would result in contempt of court the directives of the apex court are not met.
Representing the Delhi government, advocate Rahul Mehra pointed out that although the Supreme Court had instructed 700MT of oxygen to reach the national capital, only 433 MT has reached till now. "People are dying," he noted.
When additional solicitor general (ASG) Chetan Sharma, representing the central government, said in response that these are "rhetorical statements", the court hit back.
"Is it only a rhetorical statement? It's the reality. You may be blind, but we are not. We cannot shut our eyes. This is so insensitive and unfortunate. How can you make such a statement?" the bench said.
The court also asked the central government to clarify how many oxygen suppliers there are in its empowered group to tackle the Covid-19 crisis. "What you are planning is all in the future. But our main concern is to ensure if it is being done in the most efficient way possible. If the suppliers are major stakeholders, they should be brought into the allocation plan" the court noted.
The Delhi high court suggested that the government could also consider consulting help from experts at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and the Indian Institute of Management (IIM). "Whatever fleet you have, use it at the maximum potential," the bench noted.
The court also asked the Centre about the request of the Delhi government seeking aid from the Indian Army to set up field hospitals.
"This has to be done fast. The nature of the request is such," the bench observed.
When ASG Sharma said that the matter is being considered and logistical issues are being seen, Justice Palli said, "It has already been 48 hours since the request was made to you."
The matter would be heard post-lunch.