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Supreme Court wants formula on oxygen supply ahead of third wave

A view of Supreme Court of India. File   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Supreme Court on Thursday highlighted the need for the Union government to start preparations for oxygen allocation to the States, its supply and distribution ahead of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The court drew the attention of the government to reports that children may be affected in the next wave.

A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah said the government needed to finalise a formula for allocation, supply and distribution of oxygen in a “scientific manner” ahead of the coming wave. It said the “rough-and-ready” formula devised presently on the “oxygen-for-bed” arrangement would hardly work. The current formula of allocating oxygen to Delhi, for example, on the basis of the number of ICU/non-ICU beds grossly underestimated need for oxygen in the National Capital.

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“Also, not everyone who went to a hospital required an oxygen bed and not everyone required ICU or ventilator. There are many who have been asked to stay at home and quarantine,” Justice Chandrachud picked the loopholes in the formula.

The court said the formula for allocation and distribution of oxygen among the States should be based, among other things, on an “oxygen audit”, that is, to determine the actual need of oxygen in a State.

“We need to reassess the basis for oxygen allocation. We are in stage two of the pandemic. Stage three might have very different parameters… But, if we prepare today, we will be able to handle stage three. It is about proper allocation of oxygen and working out the modalities, including proper distribution. A buffer stock has also to be created,” Justice Chandrachud pointed out.

 

Importance of vaccination

The court underlined the importance of vaccination. “Children are going to be affected. They will be taken into hospitals. They will be accompanied by parents. Vaccination needs to be done,” it stated.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, while informing the court that 730.7 MT (metric tonnes) of oxygen was received in Delhi on Wednesday as directed by the Bench, agreed that a “minimum fault prone formula” for oxygen supply, allocation and distribution was the need of the hour. The government agreed to revisit the formula.

 

At one point, the court suggested incentivising young doctors who have completed their courses and young trained nurses to augment the fatigued healthcare professionals who are at the end of their tether. It said that offering them a few 1,000 rupees for their services would not incentivise them to pitch in. The Bench suggested giving them grace marks as a reward for their services in combating the pandemic.

“Today, you have 1.5 lakh doctors who are waiting for NEET and have completed their courses. If you give them ₹5000, nobody will come serve… Likewise, 2.5 lakh nurses are trained and sitting at home,” the Bench noted.

During the hearing, Justice Shah asked about the care given in rural areas of the nation.

“At the moment we are only looking at Delhi. But what about the rural areas where most of the people are suffering? We have to consider a pan-India situation as well as the future situations,” Justice Shah asked the government.

Justice Chandrachud said there was a rudimentary health infrastructure in rural areas. However, in Maharashtra, a task force of a dozen doctors was formed to communicate and advise hospitals on pandemic care in rural areas.

Supply to Delhi

Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, for the Delhi government, questioned the Centre’s apprehension that giving 700 MT oxygen to Delhi may short-change the supply to other States. He said the Centre had said there was no no dearth of oxygen supply in Delhi and there was a reserve of 160000 MT. There was an 113% increase in Delhi’s demand for oxygen from 490 MT to 700 MT on April 28. The Centre was again making an attempt to reduce Delhi’s supply to less than 560 MT.

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Mr. Mehta countered, “We have to see that there is an equitable distribution of resources. We cannot start nitpicking and score debating points. I just do not want to see more people suffering”.

But amicus curiae and senior advocate Jaideep Gupta persisted on the same line of argument, saying if 700 MT requirement of oxygen for Delhi was incorrect and the National Capital could make do with 490 MT, why was there a shortage at all.

The submissions were referring to Mr. Mehta’s initial statements in the hearing that significant stocks of oxygen were available in Delhi hospitals and continued supply of oxygen to Delhi in excess would affect other States.


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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 2:47:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/supreme-court-wants-formula-on-oxygen-issue-ahead-of-third-wave/article34498806.ece

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