The Supreme Court of India directed the Union government to ensure the deficit in oxygen supply to Delhi is met by the midnight of May 3, according to its order uploaded on Sunday, which came hours after at least five hospitals sent distress messages about their dwindling stocks and a day after 12 people died at a private hospital when their oxygen support dried up.
The court noted details of allocations, demand, projected demand, and actual daily dispatches of liquid medical oxygen and said it "accepts the submissions" by the solicitor general to ensure Delhi is supplied with oxygen as per its "projected demand". The order cited an April 18 forecast that predicted Delhi would need 700MT of oxygen daily.
"We accept his submission and direct compliance within 2 days from the date of the hearing, that is, on or before midnight of 3 May 2021," the order said.
According to data available on Sunday, the Capital received the most amount of medical oxygen in a day so far with 454 MT on Saturday, which came after the Delhi high court threatened to initiate contempt proceedings against Union government officials. The apex court's directions now mean Delhi will need to be supplied with 700MT of liquid medical oxygen by the May 3 deadline.
Earlier in the day, the Delhi HC pulled up officials from both administrations afresh in an unusual Sunday sitting, which was to discuss an application by the Centre for the HC to recall its May 1 order warning of contempt proceedings if the Capital did not receive its quota of 490MT.
"On Saturday, Delhi received 454 MT oxygen, of which 32 MT was arranged from Haryana at the last minute by the central government," said a senior Delhi government official, who asked not to be identified.
Delhi government records showed that between April 21 and 30, the city received total 3,534 MT oxygen – which comes down to 353.4 MT per day. But supplies on Friday were particularly low, 312MT.
Delhi government officials said the Capital's oxygen demand has risen further. "Delhi needs 976 MT oxygen per day. On the other hand, the allocation is only 590 MT. We have already requested the central government to increase the allotment to 976 MT, and to preferably do it from nearby oxygen plants to reduce the supply time. We are not even getting what has been allotted to us. We are doing our best to manage with whatever oxygen we are getting on a daily basis," said a spokesperson.
Some of the shortfall came into focus on Sunday when hospitals began sending SOS messages about their oxygen stock drying up. "We have Liquid Oxygen supply till 12 Noon today at Madhukar Rainbow Children Hospital, Malviya Nagar, New Delhi," said a tweet by the hospital at 10.27am. A representative later said they had 50 patients, including four newborns, on oxygen support. The hospital does not have a liquid oxygen storage tank and depends on oxygen cylinders from a private vendor.
Rainbow Children Hospital was among five hospitals that sent out such SOS messages. Together, these had over 550 Covid-19 patients, although it was not immediately clear how many of them were on oxygen support. The hospital said it received 20 oxygen cylinders around 1:30pm.
On Saturday, 12 Covid-19 patients, including a senior doctor, died at south Delhi's Batra Hospital after the facility ran out of oxygen for around 80 minutes. Late on April 23, 20 coronavirus patients died in similar circumstances at the Jaipur Golden Hospital. The crisis has persisted since April 21 due to a combination of factors. Delhi's quota set by the Union government is 490MT, lower than the 700MT the Capital's government says it needs; the city does not have adequate number of oxygen tankers to bring in supplies from neighbouring states, and other states have been unable to spare vehicles for Delhi since they too are recording a surge in oxygen demand as the Covid-19 infection continues to spread.
The problem relented briefly last week with the Capital appearing to be able to source adequate oxygen for its reduced bed strength, but that has meant hospitals have not been able to add more vacancies for seriously ill patients who may need oxygen even though they had empty beds.
The situation prompted the interventions of the Delhi high court and the Supreme Court, and top officials of the state and central governments, including the Prime Minister, held key meetings.
Solutions include setting up more oxygen plants in the city, and link them to hospitals, so that these facilities can become self-sufficient; and bringing in tankers from other states or countries.