COVID Coverage: National Pandemic Policy – 6th May
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta presented the Centre’s plan for supply, including for the transportation of oxygen tanks.
Supply of Oxygen in Delhi
Following the stay order for the contempt notice issued by the Delhi High Court, the Bench consisting Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice M.R Shah, heard the Centre’s explanation and plan for the supply of oxygen in Delhi.
The Solicitor General Mr. Tushar Mehta and Additional Secretary Ms. Sumitra Dawra presented the Centre’s plan for supply, including a plan for the transportation of oxygen tanks. The Solicitor General noted that while there is sufficient supply of oxygen in Delhi, the issue of shortage is being caused by systemic failure. This included the inefficiencies in transport, such as time taken to unload large supplies. He noted that the Centre could not have predicted the degree of shortages that occurred, and was therefore unable to establish sytems that were designed to handle the crisis.
Senior Advocate Mr. Rahul Mehra noted that there are issues with the allocation of oxygen cylinders. Some states were being allocated more than their request, while other states such as Delhi were being under-supplied. He suggested that allocation be taken up by the Centre.
The amicus curiae Senior Advocates Ms. Meenakshi Arora and Mr. Jaideep Gupta noted that the plan was short-sighted and did not look at projections for the future. They said that experts and epidemiologists can be consulted to propose a projection.
The Bench highlighted certain issues as listed below:
- Buffer stock: They highlighted the sudden increase in demand in states such as Karnataka, and the need for a buffer stock of oxygen. When supply falls on certain occasions, storage units must have buffer stocks.
- Healthcare workers: They also noted the dire need for healthcare workers, since they have been overworked since the beginning of the pandemic. Justice Chandrachud suggested the utilization of existing human resources such as NEET PG aspirants and trained nurses. NEET PG aspirants would be incentivized with grace marks.
- Rural Health Infrastructures: The bench also noted that while cities like Mumbai and Delhi are developing plans, it is important to create a dynamic pan-India plan. Such a plan must facilitate supply to rural areas which often have rudimentary health infrastructures.
- Third Wave: Justice Chandrachud noted that there is no proposed plan for a potential third wave. He noted that a third wave will affect children who will need to be accompanied by adults, therefore requiring speedy vaccination of said adults.
The Bench made the following suggestions:
- Oxygen Supply in Delhi: Until the next hearing on Monday, the Centre is expected to ensure a minimum of 700 metric tons of oxygen supplied to Delhi.
- Oxygen Audit: The need for an audit of existing supply, scarcity and projected demand for oxygen is to be done. The audit is also expected to yield a plan for allocation of finances and prevention of sale of oxygen in the black market. The Centre is to recommend names of members for this committee.
While the matter was scheduled to be held on 10th May, J Chandrachud tested positive for Covid. So, the case has not been taken up by his or another bench.