Supreme Court says Centre’s oxygen policy needs a relook

Supreme Court says Centre’s oxygen policy needs a relook

The Supreme Court on Thursday said the Centre’s oxygen distribution formula needs a relook as it has grossly underestimated Delhi’s requirement.

A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah said the Centre’s current formula devised presently on the “oxygen-for-bed” arrangement for Covid patients “needs a relook”.

On Wednesday, the SC had asked the Centre to submit a comprehensive plan to ensure Delhi received its quota of around 700 metric tonnes of oxygen per day.

The apex court questioned the Centre over its readiness and plan of action to deal with the impending third wave of the Covid pandemic, even as it found its current “rough-and-ready” formula for distribution of oxygen to states, particularly Delhi, grossly underestimated.

“When you prepared the formula not everybody who went to ICU needed oxygen. But now many home isolation patients need oxygen. Your formula does not take into account ambulances, Covid care facility etc,” Justice Chandrachud said, directing a complete audit of the distribution system so as to give it a pan-India view that fixes accountability once stocks are released. It also decided to form a committee of experts for oxygen audit, as sought by the Centre.

The bench said the Centre needs to start preparations and finalise a new formula for allocation, supply and distribution of oxygen in a “scientific manner” ahead of the coming wave. Besides, it stressed the need for a speedy vaccination process as the possible third surge is likely to affect children, according to experts.

“When the third wave comes, how will you deal with it? We are in stage 2 of the pandemic. Stage 3 might have very different parameters. If we prepare today, we will be able to handle stage 3. What is the problem in enhancing the supply? It will save people from oxygen panic and create buffer…It is about proper allocation of oxygen and working out the modalities, including proper distribution,” Justice Chandrachud told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

The Bench observed that a “minimum fault-prone formula” for oxygen supply, allocation and distribution was the need of the hour, and the allocation and distribution of oxygen among the states should be based on an “oxygen audit”, which will determine the actual need of oxygen in a state.

Justice Shah also raised the issue of how the government is dealing the situation in the rural areas. “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,” he said. Justice Chandrachud also highlighted the 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.

Terming the Centre’s oxygen allocation to states arbitrary, Delhi counsel Rahul Mehra said if an audit is required, it is required to examine these allocations and the tankers.