India is in the grip of a vicious second wave and an acute oxygen shortage is raising more fears about its overwhelmed health care system.
For three days, the Delhi High Court has been hearing emergency requests for oxygen and other resources from the city government and various hospitals in the city.
“This is ridiculous. We want to know what the centre is doing with regard to oxygen supply across India,” the high court judges said while reading out the verdict in a petition by the owner of six private hospitals.
Two emergency hearings at the Delhi High Court ended late last night after an oxygen tanker left for a hospital of the Max Group, the city’s biggest hospital chain, which had approached the court pleading for help as it was almost out of oxygen for its Covid patients.
The court expressed “shock and dismay” over the government’s handling of the oxygen crisis and directed the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government at the centre to “beg, borrow, steal” but ensure enough oxygen supply for hospitals.
“The citizen can only fall back on the state. It is the responsibility of the government. Beg… borrow… or steal, it is your job,” said the court.
“How is the government so oblivious of the reality on the ground? You cannot have people die because of no oxygen. You take your own sweet time and people die.”
A number of people across the country have died while waiting for oxygen, although it is not possible to know how many. Indian social media has also been filled with appeals for oxygen.
Crowds are gathering outside hospitals in major cities which are filled to capacity. Health services are struggling to cope.
Hours later India’s Supreme Court stepped into the matter.
“We wish to take suo motu cognisance of certain issues we find in six High Courts – Delhi, Bombay, Sikkim, Madhya Pradesh, Calcutta and Allahabad. Now they are exercising their jurisdiction in best interest. But what is happening is some kind of confusion and diversion of resources,” the Chief Justice.SA Bobde said.
“We want to know. In regard to the four issues of supply of oxygen, supply of essential drugs, method and manner of vaccination and we want to keep the power to declare lockout with the states,” said the Chief Justice.