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SC warns Centre of 'coercive' methods on retracting 700 metric tonnes of oxygen assurance to Delhi

The apex court slammed the govt on a day it also upheld a 'calibrated' interim order of Karnataka High Court directing the Centre to release 1,200MT of oxygen to the state
Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India
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Our Legal Correspondent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 08.05.21, 01:25 AM

The Supreme Court on Friday told Centre sternly not to compel it to use “coercive” methods or test its patience as it slammed the government for retracting on its Thursday’s solemn assurance to supply Delhi 700 metric tonnes of oxygen.

The warning came on a day the top court also upheld as well as “calibrated” an interim order of Karnataka High Court directing the Centre to release 1,200MT of oxygen to the state.


“We want 700MT to be supplied to Delhi and we mean business. It has to be supplied and we don’t want to be coercive. Our order will take time to be uploaded by 3pm, but you proceed and arrange the oxygen,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who headed the bench, told solicitor-general Tushar Mehta as soon as the court commenced proceedings.

The other judge in the bench Justice M.R. Shah interjected to tell Mehta: “You have to supply 700MT oxygen every day till we further order.”

A visibly angry bench made the oral observation after senior advocate Rahul Mehra appearing for Delhi made an urgent mention complaining about the Centre’s failure to supply the requisite oxygen.

For the last two days, the bench had passed separate orders directing the Centre to supply 700MT oxygen to Delhi, even while it stayed an earlier Delhi High Court contempt notice for not supplying the same quantity.

Rahul Mehra complained that on Friday till 9am, Delhi had received only 86MT of oxygen and another 16MT was in the transit.

“We mean business and the 700MT of oxygen has to be supplied to Delhi every day till we modify our order. Please don’t drive us to a situation where we have to pass coercive action against the government,” Justice Chandrachud told Mehta.

“Mr Solicitor please note that when we say 700MT has to be supplied to Delhi, it doesn’t mean it’s only for one day to assuage the court that abhi de diya (now we have given for today). It has to be 700MT everyday.”

“Yesterday when we saw your affidavit it said 700MT supplied then there were caveats and explanation about containers and tankers. We are not container drivers. We want to make it clear that Delhi must get 700MT every day. Don’t make us pass strict orders,” Justice Chandrachud observed.

Justice Shah observed: “We clarified yesterday also clearly that till the further orders you have to supply 700MT. We made it very clear.”

The Centre has been taking the stand that Delhi does not require 700MT as the claim of the AAP government according to it was exaggerated. The Centre is also of the view that if 700MT is to be diverted to Delhi alone from the central pool, then other deserving states would also be affected for lack of oxygen.Mehta agreed to comply with the direction.

But the day was not smooth sailing for the Centre as the bench also rejected its plea challenging the direction by Karnataka High Court direction to the Centre to ensure 1,200MT of oxygen to the state every as an interim measure.

“It is a well calibrated, well considered judicial exercise by the high court. We will not leave the citizens of Karnataka in the lurch,” Justice Chandrachud said while refusing to stay the high court order.

Mehta argued that if every high court starts ordering supply of oxygen to their respective states, it will become a problem for the Centre to meet all such requirements.

The bench said the high court has furnished adequate reasons for passing the interim order. It however, said the high court direction will not preclude any mutual resolution of the issue between the Centre and the state on supply of oxygen.

The bench was of the view that the high court had passed the order following the death of about 22 persons due to alleged lack of oxygen supply in Chamrajnagar district.

An exasperated Mehta did not give up and instead said: “Then my Lords we are ready to give the entire oxygen stock with us to the high courts. Let the high courts’ distribute it!”.

However, Justice Chandrachud shot back saying: “Mr Solicitor, we cannot say that the high courts will simply shut their eyes.”

Later the bench passed the following written order: “…The allocation for the State of Karnataka stood at 802MT prior to 30 April 2021 and has been increased to 856MT from 1 May 2021 and 965MT from 5 May 2021. The minimum requirement of the State, as projected by the State Government on 5 May 2021, was 1,162MT.

“The High Court has furnished adequate reasons for issuing a calibrated ad-interim direction. The direction of the High Court is evidently an ad-interim direction, subject to such calibration as would be necessitated after the State of Karnataka and the Union Government have mutually attempted to resolve the issue. The order of the High Court does not preclude a mutual resolution by the two governments, since the proceedings are still pending.

“The order of the High Court is based on the need to maintain at least a minimum requirement as projected by the State Government until a decision on the representation is taken and the High Court is apprised. Hence, without enquiring into the wider issues sought to be raised at this stage (and keeping them open) there is no reason to entertain the Special Leave Petition. The Special Leave Petition is disposed of.”

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