The Bombay High Court on Thursday said it was "imperative" for all private hospitals in Maharashtra to have their own oxygen plants to deal with the increasing cases of COVID-19.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni said as the third wave is likely, private hospitals must have their own oxygen plants to meet their own demands.
"Now that the third wave is likely, why must private hospitals not be made to have their own oxygen plants? At least to meet their own demands for active consumption? After all, they charge all patients," the bench said.
The court referred to a newspaper report from Thursday morning, according to which, a private hospital in Sangli had set up its own oxygen supply to tackle the increasing cases of COVID-19.
If a hospital in Sangli can do so, why can't private hospitals in places such as Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune and Aurangabad set up their own oxygen plants? it said.
"It is high time. It is imperative that they have their own plant. What does the government feel about this?" the High Court asked the state's counsel Advocate General (AG) Ashutosh Kumbhakoni.
The bench directed Mr Kumbhakoni to inform the court by May 11, about how much area would a hospital require on average to set up an oxygen plant, the likely expenses, the nature of equipment required etc.
The court was hearing a bunch of public interest litigations (PILs) on various issues pertaining to the COVID- 19 pandemic.
The PILs cover issues such as the supply of oxygen, medicines, availability of hospital beds etc., across the state.
During the day's hearing, AG Kumbhakoni told the bench that Maharashtra was not getting adequate stock of Remdesivir from the Union government.
As per the state's data available on May 1, a total of 8,9,000 vials of Remdesivir were to be supplied, and seven private manufacturers identified by the Centre are supposed to send pre-decided units on a daily basis, he said.
At least 51,000 vials are needed in state every day, but it was receiving only 35,000 vials daily, he said.
"We don't want a tussle with the Centre. We understand it is under pressure. We are only bringing this to your notice," Mr Kumbhakoni told the court.
The state had directed all hospitals and COVID-19 centres to use Remdesivir judiciously.
Mr Kumbhakoni further said 1,804 metric tonnes of oxygen had been allocated for Maharashtra, and of this, the state was manufacturing 1,200 metric tonnes by itself.
"We are only getting 600 metric tonnes from outside," Mr Kumbhakoni said.
To this, the bench said while Maharashtra seemed to be faring better than other states in controlling the number of active infections, supply of oxygen, Remdesivir etc., it must not lower its guard, especially since a third wave of the pandemic seemed inevitable.
"Other states are seeing deaths due to lack of oxygen. We don't want to see a single death in Maharashtra on account of want of oxygen," the High Court said.
In case the supply of 1,804 metric tonnes does not increase in the future, the authorities must ensure judicious use so that not a single person suffers due to lack of oxygen, it said.
The bench also took cognisance of the "alarming situation" in Pune district and suggested that the municipal commissioner of Pune seek "guidance" from the commissioner of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on containing the viral spread.
It suggested that all other districts with high number of active cases set up a meeting with the BMC commissioner through video-conferencing and "follow the Mumbai model".
"If Mumbai is regarded as a model by the Supreme Court for the country, then it should be regarded as a model for other municipal corporations in our state", the court said.
The bench also said that the state must consider the court's suggestion on taking aggressive measures, including imposing a complete lockdown for a limited period in districts that were witnessing an exponential rise in infections.
Hospitals and medical professionals must not insist on prescribing foreign drugs to treat COVID-19, if medicines manufactured in India were cheaper, more widely available and could be used as alternatives to treat the disease, it said.
"There is a discussion in the Supreme Court order on the medicines that are effective. Why is there no advisory to this effect?" the court asked.
"If there is any entity which is making profit, the Centre and the State need to put their foot down. India is not a country where these multinational companies can make profit," it said.
The High Court is likely to pass a detailed order with specific directions to the state and the Union governments later in the day.
It will continue hearing the pleas next on May 12.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)