The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a Karnataka High Court order of May 5 directing the Centre to supply 1,200 MT of oxygen every day to the State.
A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah described the interim order of the High Court as a “careful, calibrated and judicious exercise”.
The top court pointed out that even Karnataka government had projected the need for 1,800 MT oxygen if cases climbed to 3.95 lakh. The cases, the Bench noted, had gone up to 4.95 lakh cases on May 5, and the minimum requirement was 1,100 MT.
“Hence, the HC order shows an extraordinarily well-calibrated approach... Prima facie , the government is under an obligation [to provide the oxygen],” Justice Chandrachud addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
Mr. Mehta, who represents the Centre which has challenged the HC order, said the issue was not about the supply of oxygen to Karnataka.
“The Centre is not and cannot be averse to that. I am only sharing a concern about a national problem... This is a pan-India issue. If every HC starts ‘judiciously’ examining what amount of oxygen should be supplied, etc, where would it lead to... The Centre and State should decide the allocation of oxygen. If every HC starts entertaining petitions for allocation of oxygen under Article 226, COVID management would become unworkable. There will be a complete lack of pandemic management. This [oxygen] is not an unlimited source, we are trying to distribute it equitably to all,” Mr. Mehta argued.
Justice Chandrachud said the amount of oxygen required for Karnataka — 1,200 MT — was not arrived at by the HC on its own, but based on a mutual discussion held by the State and the Centre. Besides, the HC had not precluded a resolution on the issue of oxygen allocation between the State and the Centre.
Justice Shah said the minimum requirement of 1,162 MT was fixed as per the norms arrived at by the government itself.
At one point, an exasperated Mr. Mehta said “we are then ready to give the entire supply [of oxygen] and let it be distributed through the High Courts”.
Justice Chandrachud intervened at this point, saying the top court was already considering the setting up of an allocation committee for supply of oxygen to States equitably and as per their individual needs.
“We are forming a committee and till then the HCs cannot shut their eyes,” Justice Chandrachud said.
Justice Chandrachud said the judges, including Karnataka Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Aravind Kumar, who passed the order in question, were human beings sensitive to what was happening around them.
“They have seen the deaths in Chamarajanagar and Kalburgi... We are jointly in this,” Justice Chandrachud assured Mr. Mehta.