The court in the Indian capital, New Delhi, has become the last hope for many hospitals struggling to get oxygen for patients with COVID-1
The Delhi Supreme Court is holding almost daily video conferences to consider petitions from hospitals invoking India’s constitutional right to life. Local and federal officials are present.
Court intervention has saved lives, lawyers say.
On Sunday, after leaving only 30 minutes of oxygen for 42 patients with viruses at Sitaram Bhartia Hospital and new deliveries nowhere to be seen, hospital authorities turned to the Delhi court as a “last resort” for help, said lawyer Shyel Trehan.
The judges ordered the Delhi government to arrange deliveries immediately.
“The oxygen cylinders arrived soon after the hearing, and the tank arrived a few hours later,” Trehan said.
The shortage of medical oxygen has plagued the city of 20 million people for about two weeks, with unprecedented scenes of patients dying in hospital beds, in ambulances and in parking lots outside, gasping for air.
Delhi records about 20,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day. As the health care system is distorted, the city says it needs 976 tons of medical oxygen a day, but receives less than 490 tons allocated by the federal government.
Representatives of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which manages supplies at the national level, told the court they were doing everything possible and accused the Delhi government, led by a rival party, of politicizing the issue.
The panel of two judges, Vipin Sangi and Reha Pali, heard Modi’s lawyers and the local administration argue about oxygen quotas, transport problems and the lack of tankers.
And sometimes judges lose their temper.
Over the weekend, when Delhi officials again signaled concerns that oxygen supplies were not arriving on time, putting patients’ lives at risk, Judge Sanghi attacked officials, saying, “The water has passed overhead. Enough … enough is enough. “
At the end of April, Sangi withdrew government officials, saying they had to “beg, borrow, steal or import” oxygen supplies to meet the city’s needs,
He said the state “can’t say ‘We can only provide so much and no more,’ so if people die, let them die.”
“LIKE WATER FOR FISH”
Both the federal government and the Delhi government have been criticized for not being adequately prepared for the rise in infections. Since the end of April, some of the best hospitals in the city have asked the court for help.
“Not only is this unprecedented, but at the moment this (court) hearing is literally like fish water,” said Prabhsahai Kaur, another lawyer who went to court for the hospital’s oxygen needs and received help.
Yet the scenes of despair, urgency and disappointment take place every day.
At a hearing last week, a local government lawyer called an oxygen provider, calling on a loudspeaker to ask why the bottles had not reached a hospital while judges patiently listened to the answers.
On Sunday, a lawyer got into an argument, saying he only had an hour of oxygen left in his hospital, while at the same time another man pleaded that patients could “start dying” in his facility.
Minutes later, another loud voice said, “One hundred and forty patients. One hour left. We have problems … there is a crisis,” as a judge tried to reassure the speaker and called on the state authorities to take immediate action.
In another exchange, an interior ministry official said his officers were working on a military basis and had sought the court’s blessing.
India’s Advocate General Tushar Mehta, representing the federal government, said: “We desperately need … God’s blessings.”
Our standards: Thomson Reuters’ principles of trust.