Delhi HC questions Centre: Delhi is not an industrial state how will it get tankers?

Kriti Agrawal

A special Sunday sitting of the Delhi High Court in relation to the issue of oxygen supplies to Delhi hospitals amid the COVID surge saw discussion about who is responsible for arranging tankers for transportation of oxygen – the Centre or the Delhi Government.

The Central Government has petitioned the Delhi High Court to vacate its order from yesterday, in which the Court threatened Central Government officers with contempt if 490 MT of oxygen was not sent to the National Capital Territory of Delhi.

The Bench issued the order in response to the tragedy of 8 covid patients dying due to a shortage of oxygen at Batra Hospital. In said order, the Bench stated that the Centre must ensure the availability of cryogenic tankers for the supply of oxygen.

On Sunday afternoon, a division bench of Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Rekha Palli convened for a special sitting to hear the Centre’s recall application.

The Central Government’s Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, argued that the responsibility for arranging tankers for oxygen transport cannot be transferred to the Centre.

Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, asked why the Centre couldn’t use its money to arrange tankers for Delhi.

Mehra submitted while considering its weaknesses as a non-industrial state, the Delhi Government was able to obtain some tankers by contacting some industrial houses.

Mehra contended, “If we (Delhi Govt) could arrange tankers for its own using its resources, why can’t Centre do it using all its might? Why can’t Centre do more for Delhi? Can the Central Government not give another 100 MTs than the allocation? There is an allocation shortfall.”

Amicus Curiae Senior Advocate Rajshekhar Rao advised the bench that this is a legal matter that must be resolved.

The Bench noted that the amicus curiae had included a notice on the legal question of who is responsible for arranging tankers.

However, the Solicitor General advised the Court not to consider that issue because it would be detrimental to the entire covid management.

The Bench explained that contempt is the last thing on the Court’s mind, and it is aware of the difficult efforts made by officers.

In response to Justice Sanghi’s observation that Delhi is in a unique situation, SG said that the other states are not complaining about the lack of oxygen, the Bench remarked, “Because they are getting oxygen.”

The Bench had released a notice on the petition and has asked the Delhi Government to respond by Tuesday. The matter will be discussed on Wednesday.