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The Delhi high court on Tuesday issued a show-cause notice to the Centre as to why contempt proceedings should not be initiated after it sought to wriggle out of its liability to supply 700 tonnes of medical-grade oxygen to the national capital.

“700 right away, by any means that the Supreme Court had asked you to supply. We don’t want to hear anything besides compliance. Enough is enough. We mean business and give it by whatever means. We had said contempt action against the officers will be the last thing on our mind. But that does not mean we cannot do it. That option still remains. It does not mean that you take it lightly. Your officers will face the notice," a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said.

“The Centre will quibble on these little things and let people die by not supplying oxygen. Mr Mehra is not saying this; we are telling you this. Are you living in ivory towers? You can put your head in the sand, like an ostrich; we will not," the bench said.

Senior advocate Rahul Mehra is representing the Delhi government

The court said it was pained to see the attitude of the Centre towards the supply of oxygen to Delhi when even hospitals are reducing the number of beds due to the shortage in oxygen. “It pains us that aspect of supply of oxygen for treatment of covid patients in Delhi should be viewed from the way it has been done by the central government. We are facing the grim reality every day of people not able to secure oxygen beds, even ICU beds. Situation has come to this that hospitals have had to reduce beds offered by them because they are not able to service due to shortage of oxygen".

“On the one hand, there is a need to augment capacity to deal with cases, and on the other hand, existing infrastructure is crumbling. We, therefore, direct the central government to show cause why contempt should not be initiated for non-compliance of orders passed by us and Supreme Court on 30 April," it said.

The bench took a grim view of the Centre’s denial of the SC’s directive to supply 700 tonnes medical oxygen for Delhi. “We reject the submission that the Delhi government is not entitled to receive 700 tonnes per day in light of the present medical infrastructure," the court added, as it sought the presence of Piyush Goyal, additional secretary, ministry of home affairs; and Sumita Dawra, additional secretary in the department for promotion of industry and internal trade, on Wednesday.

“We fail to understand what good compliance affidavit would do when 700 tonnes oxygen is not being delivered to Delhi. Even 590 tonnes per day has not been delivered for a single day. Centre submits that SC has not directed supply of 700 tonnes. We disagree, and the complete reading of the Supreme Court order shows it has directed the Centre to supply 700 tonnes," it said in its oral order.

The court also asked the Centre to seek the help of IITs and IIMs, and suggested adding the suppliers to the Empowered Group of the Centre to take their opinion.

The court was hearing a plea by lawyer-petitioner Rakesh Malhotra, who along with several hospitals, sought directions to the Centre and the Delhi government for better facilities and continuous supply of oxygen in hospitals and nursing homes of the city.

The Centre, represented by additional solicitor general Chetan Sharma, contended that SC had not directed them to supply 700 tonnes but to just fulfil the deficit in oxygen supply. The court took strong exception to Sharma, referring to a submission by Mehra for Delhi that “people are dying" due to lack of sufficient oxygen supply to hospitals in the national capital as “rhetoric".

“Is it only rhetoric? Is it not a fact? It’s the reality. You may be blind; we are not blind...How can you make such a statement?" the bench remarked.

“The whole nation is crying for oxygen, not only Delhi but other states too," the court said.

Sharma said the Centre is going to file a compliance report on the Supreme Court’s 30 April order and not get into whether it is to supply 700 tonnes of oxygen per day to Delhi.

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