The Delhi High Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to immediately ban industrial use of oxygen instead of waiting till April 22, remarking that “economic interest cannot override lives, otherwise we are waiting for a much bigger disaster”.
“The shortage is now. Why wait till April 22 to decide?” the HC said, adding, “At this point of time, the highest priority has to be saving lives.”
“The government imposed a lockdown last year, which faced a lot of criticism, but if we look back, it was probably the wisest decision the government made,” the Bench said. “The situation today is much more demanding. If there was justification for lockdown last year, it is four times more today,” it added.
The HC also directed the Centre to meet the representatives of steel and petrochemical industries to temporarily divert a portion of their oxygen for medical needs. “We want the Centre to consider issuing order to steel and petrochemical industries so that a fine balance can be struck between the needs of the people at large and the needs of the industry,” it said.
Citing the ordeal of a Central government counsel whose father is in the hospital and is being provided oxygen at reduced pressure to conserve it, the Bench said: “The situation is such that oxygen pressure has to be reduced for it to last longer, with the result that serious patients in need of oxygen have suffered. This is turning out to be one of the major causes of fatalities in COVID-19 patients.”
During the hearing, senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government, submitted that 673 metric tonne of oxygen is needed for ICU patients in Delhi, and 280 metric tonne of oxygen for non-ICU patients. “Two days back the Delhi government had written for 700 metric tonne of oxygen, on Tuesday, it is 973 metric tonne. If we don’t do something today and leave it for tomorrow, this will jump to 1,100 and then 1,200 and then every single hospital will be without oxygen,” Mr. Mehra said.
Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, representing the Ministry of Health, said there has been an inordinate increase of 133% in the projected medical oxygen required as on April 20, between the initial estimate of 300 metric tonne and revised estimate of 700 metric tonne submitted by Delhi.
“All the States, including Delhi, have been advised to rationalise the use of oxygen and prohibit abnormal usage and administering oxygen to patients who do not clinically require it,” the Ministry said in its affidavit.
The High Court will hear the case again on April 22.
The Bench also took note of news reports that there is daily wastage of “6% of vaccines, and till now 44 lakh vaccines out of 10 crore have been wasted, maximum in Tamil Nadu”. The HC said wastage of even a single shot of the COVID-19 vaccine was a “criminal waste” and directed the Centre to vaccinate whomsoever it can to ensure each vial is used fully.
“Give it to those who want it. Whomsoever you can vaccinate, please vaccinate. Whether 16 years old or 60, all need vaccination. The pandemic does not discriminate,” the Bench said.
It also asked the Centre to devise ways and means to register volunteers between the ages of 18-45 who can be called to take the vaccine, if some doses are left after 5 p.m. each day. “That would ensure all doses are fully utilised and not wasted. For this purpose the Centre should modify its COWIN application (meant for registering people who want to get vaccinated),” the Bench said.