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‘Pull Up Your Socks, Get your house in order, enough is enough’: Delhi High Court pulls up Delhi Government

Amidst rising cases of Covid-19 infection in the national capital, the Delhi High Court is conducting day-to-day hearing of multiple PILs regarding the supply of drugs and Oxygen in the state.

On April 27, Delhi High Court continued the day-to-day hearing of Covid-19 management in the national capital. During the hearing, when the High Court came to know that Seth Air has been holding 20 tons of Oxygen, the Bench criticized Delhi Government for mismanagement. The Court said, “Pull Up Your Socks, Get your house in order. Enough is enough. If you cannot do it, tell us, we will ask the Central Government to take over. People are dying!”

Amidst rising cases of Covid-19 infection in the national capital, the Delhi High Court is conducting day-to-day hearing of multiple PILs regarding the supply of drugs and Oxygen in the state. On Monday, the Bench comprising of Vipin Sanghi and Justice Rekha Palli had asked the Delhi Government to hold a meeting with all stakeholders and submit a report on the plan to ensure a smooth supply of Oxygen.

In its submission, Delhi Government said that it had conducted a marathon meeting with the stakeholders. Chief Secretary, Delhi Government, said that they had sought data from the stakeholders about the supply, existing contracts and demand of the life-saving gas.

Most of the data has been received by the Government, and by evening they will be able to pass an order to streamline the supply. CS further added that there would be a dedicated helpline number for the hospitals where they can contact in case of grievance. “The suppliers have to honour the existing orders,” said CS.

Hospitals approached High Court amidst lack of Oxygen

During the hearing, counsels of several hospitals made submissions as they were running out of Oxygen. Advocate Maninder Singh appearing for Shanti Mukund Hospital said that they had attended the meeting, and their allocation was reduced. Singh added that if a patient needs a certain amount of Oxygen, it has to be arranged. The Court directed the Delhi Government to immediately send 2.69 tons of Oxygen to the hospital that was allocated to them. When Advocate Mehra appearing for Delhi Government apologized for the delay, Singh said, “Apologising will not save lives.”

Advocate Sachin Puri appearing for Venkateshwara Hospital, informed the Court that they were about to run out of Oxygen. The Court noted that multiple complaints had been received, and they cannot be all wrong. “There have been repeated complaints of calls and messages not being answered,” the Court said. Adv Mehra assured supply would reach in the course of the hearing.

Advocate Ajay Kohli appearing for Delhi Heart and Lungs Institute told the Court that they have Oxygen left for two hours. The hospital was catering to 100 patients on Oxygen. The Court directed the Delhi government officials to take the necessary steps to ensure supply immediately.

The supply chain is getting streamlined, Delhi government claimed

As per the submissions made by Advocate Mehra, the supply chain is being streamlined in the national capital. Jindal Industries have provided 3-4 tankers. Five tankers were allocated by the central Government for Delhi. Linde also arranged four tankers. The Delhi government has requested the Central Government for support in airlifting tankers from Bangkok, to which the Home Ministry has agreed to. So far, the Delhi Government has 13 additional tankers at its disposal.

Black marketing is a major issue, Court noted

The Court noted during the hearing that black marketing of oxygen cylinders is a major issue that the Government must solve. Justice Palli said, “It’s the biggest problem that individuals are facing.” The Court was informed that some individual suppliers did not attend the April 26 meeting. The Court directed the Government of Delhi to take over the plants of the suppliers who fail comply to with their orders.

When the Court asked about those who want to get their cylinders refilled at home, Advocate Mehra stated that there is a shortage of cylinders. When Justice Palli asked the hospitals are saying they have empty cylinders, but they were unable to get them refilled, Mehra said the statement is incorrect. He said he and Advocate Satyakam have been answering the SOS calls themselves that irked the Court. The Bench told them it is not their job to handle the SOS calls.

The Bench told the Delhi Government to curb black marketing as there have been reports that cylinders are being sold for lakhs. “We will direct you then to take over their plants. Keep them in custody if they are playing with people’s lives like that,” the Court said.

‘You passed the order as a window dress’, said the Delhi Court

Advocate Aggarwal brought the order by the Delhi Government to the notice of the Court that states all hospitals must attend the patients within 10 minutes. He said when the hospital is running at full capacity, how it can follow such an order. “These orders cannot be issued in a general manner,” he said.

After checking the photographs of overwhelmed emergencies of the hospitals, the Court asked the Delhi government the intention behind the order. Mehra replied that it was just an advisory and not an order. The Court refused to accept the argument and said that such orders paint a bad picture of the hospitals. The Court also asserted that if the objective was just to do the paperwork, there was no need to pass such orders.

The Bench said, “That’s what we have been saying. If there is negligent behaviour by any hospitals, you pass orders. But passing these orders generally? This proceeds on the assumption that without this order, hospitals are not doing their job.” The Court added that such orders put additional pressure on the already overwhelmed healthcare system.

“It seems like this paperwork, just window dress, which has been done to satisfy patients and attendants that look we’ve issued the order. You are not looking at the other side, the hospitals and workers. And have your own Delhi govt hospitals been able to achieve this?” the Court said.

‘There is something fishy with your order’, said Court to Delhi Government

Arora, the owner of Multan, a company that refills oxygen cylinders, told the Court that he was asked to fulfil the requirement of the hospitals. However, he was getting continuous SOS calls. He asked the Court how to manage. When the Court asked Delhi Government about the system in place for the supply, Advocate Mehra informed the Court that a system is being set up to plan the supply to the hospitals.

The Court was informed by Seth Air that the company had 20 tons of Oxygen. The owner stated that he was asked to supply Oxygen to four hospitals only though he used to supply to 80 hospitals. He added when he asked the Government that he had received an SOS call and if he should honour the call or provide Oxygen to only four allotted hospitals, the Delhi Government asked him to manage others too.

The Court turned towards Mehra and asked them why Seth Air has not been informed properly about the supply. Udit Rai appearing for Delhi Government, said that Seth Air was lying.

The Court said, “Every time we have told him, all commitments he has with hospitals are to be honoured. He has already received 20 tonnes and will get 16 more today.” The Court asked if the Government had given Seth Air a free hand to run the course of oxygen supply on its own.

Seth told the Court he did not supply Oxygen to Maharaja Agrasen Hospital as they said they did not need any oxygen. The Court got furious and said, “I’ll take you in custody right now. You think we don’t understand what’s happening here. “Aap hame bevkoof samajhte hai”? Their patients are dying!” The Bench asserted that Seth had made a false statement that Agresen Hospital was procuring Oxygen from another source.

The Court directed GNCTD to take note and take over their unit. The Bench further directed Seth to not cause any obstruction in running of the plant under the management of officers of GNCTD. The Court added, “Seth appears to be a rather big supplier. He wasn’t part of your order?! There seems to be something fishy. This cannot be just overlooked!”

The Court further told Delhi Government, “Get your house in order. Enough is enough. If you can’t do it, tell us, we will ask the Central govt to take over. People are dying! From hearing today, it’s clear to us that GNCTD has to pull up its socks for the aspect of distribution of liquid Oxygen to larger hospitals but also cylinders used in smaller hospitals.”

When Mehra asked the Court to reconsider the phrase ‘Delhi govt needs to pull its socks’ and replace it with “needs to things more transparent, the Court denied and said, “This one man had 20 tonnes of Oxygen! And he isn’t even in your order? We are really alarmed by the situation that we have discovered today! If we look back when SG Mehta said there is availability, We did not believe it then!”

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

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