The central government has to supply 700 metric tonnes of medical oxygen to Delhi every day till further orders, the Supreme Court said this morning, as top hospitals in the national capital continue to struggle to tackle the unprecedented rise in Covid infections.
"When we say 700 metric tonnes, it means (the amount of medical oxygen to be supplied) every day to Delhi. Please do not drive us to a situation to take coercive steps... We are clarifying that it will be 700 MT every day," the top court said in sharp remarks.
This is the third straight day that the shortage of medical oxygen - a key challenge that has emerged in India's fight against a deadly second Covid wave - was discussed in the top court.
Delhi government's lawyer Rahul Mehra today told the court that the city got 527 MT oxygen by midnight and 89 MT was received by today 9 AM; 16 MT was on the way, he added.
"Yesterday we noticed lot of caveats on tankers. We are not going into this... we are not drivers," Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud told the centre this morning.
The top court said it has constituted an expert panel to conduct an oxygen audit to understand the need of oxygen for every state.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court had made it very clear: "You will have to give 700 tonnes to Delhi (700 tonnes dena hi padega)".
"If nothing is to be hidden, let it come before the nation how allocation and distribution is done transparently by the centre," the court had said, adding, "The centre continues to be in contempt for not supplying 700 tonnes of oxygen to Delhi."
The orders on yesterday's hearing will be uploaded soon.
Even as the Arvind Kejriwal government, in the top court, said on Thursday that the city has been getting roughly half the quantity of oxygen it was officially allocated, the Chief Minister - later in the evening - thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the supplies.
"Yesterday (on Wednesday), the centre for the first time sent us 730 tonnes of medical oxygen. I thank the central government, Delhi High Court, Supreme Court. We will be able to save many lives," he said in a televised press briefing.
"But, till we fight this spike in infections, we need over 700 tonnes of oxygen every day," he stressed.
Over the last two weeks, many hospitals in the city have sent distress messages on social media, seeking urgent help.
Last week, 12 people, including a doctor, died at Delhi's Batra Hospital on Saturday after the facility ran out of oxygen.
A week before that 25 people died due to shortage of low oxygen pressure at the Jaipur Golden Hospital in the city. However, the hospital later said the cause of death of 21 of those patients could not be ascertained by an expert committee which probed the incident.