The Supreme Court on Friday said it “will not leave the people of Karnataka in the lurch”, and turned down a plea by the central government seeking a stay on a Karnataka high court order that directed it to immediately increase the supply of medical oxygen to the state from 962 metric tonnes (MT) per day to 1,200 MT per day.
Karnataka has more than 517,000 active covid-19 cases, and its medical infrastructure has been struggling to handle the rise of cases in the ongoing second wave of infections.
“It is a well-calibrated and judicious exercise of power by the high court. It is not an arbitrary order but based on adequate reasons. The high court order is a well-considered order. We will not keep the people of Karnataka in the lurch by interfering with this order,” a bench of justices Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah told the Centre, represented through solicitor general Tushar Mehta.
Discomfited by the remarks of the bench, Mehta retorted that the Centre was willing to “walk out” of the oxygen allocation process if high courts were willing to decide the quantity of oxygen each state should get. “We are willing to give the entire quantity of oxygen to the high courts. Let the high courts distribute it. We will be out,” he said.
The bench, however, replied: “That may not be the correct attitude. We understand the issues involved and we are constituting a committee that will go into the criteria of allocation. But that does not mean that our high courts will shut their eyes, put blinkers on, and will not say anything even if people are suffering.”
At this, Mehta sought to persuade the bench not to record statements in the court order on the quantity of oxygen demanded by Karnataka since the Union government was going to resolve it through talks. He also urged the bench to add that the Karnataka high court order should not act as a precedent for other high courts to start passing orders on allocation of oxygen by the Centre to the respective states.
But the bench told Mehta that the Karnataka high court order was based on the norms laid down by the Centre’s own expert committee on the requirement of oxygen on the basis of active cases and the number of beds available.
“You may have difficulty in procuring the oxygen but the 1,162 MT per day is the requirement of Karnataka based on your own norms,” it told the SG.
The bench recorded that while the allocation was increased to 965 MT on 5 May, the minimum requirement as projected by the state government was 1,162 MT per day.
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