Humanitarian grounds: Supreme Court firm on oxygen supply to Karnataka

By: |
May 08, 2021 5:15 AM

Refusing to budge, the bench told the SG, “we must understand that judges are also humans. The HC has seen deaths in Chamarajanagar and Kalburgi. They are looking at the human aspect”.

“Oxygen as a resource is not unlimited. We are trying our best to solve the problem. If every HC starts to pass orders, then it will lead to a complete breakdown of pandemic management,” Mehta told the judges.“Oxygen as a resource is not unlimited. We are trying our best to solve the problem. If every HC starts to pass orders, then it will lead to a complete breakdown of pandemic management,” Mehta told the judges.

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to stay the Karnataka High Court order asking the Centre to reconsider and increase the daily liquid medical oxygen (LMO) allocation to the state from 965 MT to 1200 MT for treating Covid-19 patients.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah said the HC can’t remain silent to the needs of the people reeling under the second wave of the pandemic.

“We don’t want to leave the citizens of Karnataka in the lurch. Even with 3.95 lakh cases, Karnataka had requested 1,700 tonnes of oxygen and 1,100 MT was the minimum requirement. The order of the High Court is a careful, calibrated and judicial exercise of power…HC cannot remain silent when people are dying in the state. We see no reason to entertain the SLP,” the bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who argued that HCs should not pass such orders for “immediate supply of oxygen” in their respective states.

Justice Chandrachud at the outset told the SG that “we mean business and the 700 MT of oxygen has to be supplied to Delhi everyday till we modify our order. Please don’t drive us to a situation where we have to pass coercive action against the government”.

Justice Shah also told the law officer that the HC had gone into all aspects. “The court has gone into your norms for oxygen requirement. If there is a problem with supply, you consider it,” he added.

“Oxygen as a resource is not unlimited. We are trying our best to solve the problem. If every HC starts to pass orders, then it will lead to a complete breakdown of pandemic management,” Mehta told the judges.

Refusing to budge, the bench told the SG, “we must understand that judges are also humans. The HC has seen deaths in Chamarajanagar and Kalburgi. They are looking at the human aspect”.

While Mehta maintained that the government will have to take a holistic approach in the matter, the Bench reiterated that it would “direct the setting up of a committee to relook oxygen allocation, but till then we cannot ask HCs to shut their eyes to it…There will be a time gap between the orders and the report of the committee”.

On the allocation of oxygen from distant areas, an issue that Karnataka had raised before the HC, Justice Shah asked the SG, “what’s the point of allocating quota which will take 48 hours to reach? Are you considering the mapping issues while allotting.”

This query came in view of the state government informing the HC that 30 MT of oxygen was allocated from a port where it was unable to pick up the supply.

Challenging the HC’s May 5 order directing it to immediately increase its allocation of LMO to 1,200 MT per day, the Centre submitted that the HC had failed to consider the rationale behind allocation to each state. It also alleged that such directions would have a cascading effect and result in the total collapse of the system in its fight against the ongoing second wave of the pandemic. It sought setting aside of the HC order on the grounds that it “would ultimately lead to mismanagement of resources and create a further chaotic environment in an already overburdened system”.

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