New Delhi, Apr 20: The Delhi High Court on Tuesday said that economic interests can not override human lives and in view of various hospitals in the national capital running low on oxygen, the Centre should immediately implement the ban on industrial use of oxygen instead of waiting till April 22.

A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said oxygen supply of various hospitals will run out in 4-8 hours and in such a situation there was no justification in implementing the ban from April 22 as the need was now.

The court directed the Centre to forthwith implement the ban and divert the oxygen to hospitals running out of the same as any further delay will lead to loss of precious lives.

The court also issued notice to INOX, which produces oxygen, as to why contempt action be not initiated against it for not complying with court orders to supply oxygen and directed the presence of the company's Managing Director on the next date of hearing on April 22.

The court also sought the presence of the Uttar Pradesh government on the next date.

The direction came after senior advocate Rahul Mehra told the bench that INOX did not supply oxygen as directed by the court claiming that doing so would lead to a law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh from where the supply was to come.

The court in its order also directed the Centre to issue appropriate orders and also meet the representatives of the steel and petrochemical industries to divert some portion of their oxygen for medical needs for a period to tide over the prevailing pandemic.

The court said these industries can reduce their production for now and if the lockdown continues then everything would come to a halt and therefore, what would be the need for steel, petrol and diesel during such a situation.

"During lockdown, what would be the development," the court said and asked the Centre why it was waiting till April 22 to ban industrial use of oxygen.

"Shortage is now. You have to do it (ban) now. Look into taking some oxygen from steel and petroleum industries. They have big pockets and big lobbies, but tell them if they have to cut production, then they can cut production. Lives have to be saved," the bench said.

The court cited the example of a central government counsel whose father was admitted in hospital and was on oxygen support, but due its scarcity, oxygen was being provided at a reduced pressure to him to conserve it.

"Can you ask him to hold on till April 22," the court asked.

It said if nothing was done, then "we are heading for a bigger disaster".

"We might end up losing nearly a crore of people. Are we willing to accept that," the bench said.

It also suggested increasing the COVID beds in hospitals which have their own oxygen generating capacity.

The observations by the bench came after perusing the Centre's affidavit which said there was presently no gap in oxygen supply to Delhi and that industrial use of oxygen was banned with effect from April 22.

The Ministry of Health, represented by Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, told the high court that there has been an inordinate increase of 133 per cent in the projected medical oxygen required, as on April 20, between the initial estimate of 300 metric tonnes and revised estimate of 700 metric tonnes submitted by Delhi.

The ministry said all the States, including Delhi, have to rationalize the use of oxygen and prohibit abnormal usage and administering oxygen to the patients who do not clinically require the same.

"States have to undertake oxygen consumption monitoring in hospitals including private hospitals and to undertake facility-wise/hospital-wise oxygen inventory mapping and advance planning for timely replenishment so that supply can be efficiently managed," it said.

It said that states of Kerala and Madhya Pradesh have come out with simple guidelines to efficiently manage use of oxygen in view of its scarcity.

Earlier in the day, the court had asked the Centre whether oxygen supplied to industries can be diverted for COVID-19 patients.

"Industries can wait. Patients cannot. Human lives are at stake," the bench said.

It said it has heard that doctors at Ganga Ram Hospital were being forced to reduce oxygen being given to COVID-19 patients admitted there as there was scarcity of oxygen.

The ministry, in the affidavit filed through central government standing counsel Monika Arora, has also said that in order to increase the capacity of medical oxygen in Delhi, eight Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) Oxygen Generation plants are being installed by the support of PM CARES Funds.

"These plants would enhance capacity of medical oxygen by 14.4 metric tonnes," the ministry's affidavit said.

The observations by the bench came during the hearing of a disposed of petition related to COVID-19 tests and the high court revived it on April 19 by noting that the virus has raised its "ugly head" once again and the pandemic is raging with much greater intensity and "it is evident that the healthcare infrastructure is at the stage of imminent collapse".

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New Delhi, May 16: The Centre directed Uttar Pradesh and Bihar on Sunday to prevent dumping of dead bodies in the Ganga and its tributaries, and focus on their safe disposal and a dignified cremation after corpses were seen floating in these rivers following a spurt in the number of coronavirus cases.

At a review meeting conducted on May 15-16, the Centre said dumping of dead bodies and partially burnt or decomposed corpses in the Ganga and its tributaries has recently been reported, which is "most undesirable and alarming".

"Namami Gange directs states to prevent dumping of dead bodies in the Ganga and focus on their safe disposal and providing support for ensuring dignified cremation," the Jal Shakti Ministry said.

The state pollution control boards were directed to monitor the water quality more frequently in consultations with the health departments.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was assigned the task of overall monitoring, providing guidance to the state pollution control boards and taking up advanced analysis in the matter.

Support for cremation needs to be given top priority. Effective implementation of the government orders needs to be ensured. No loss of time should take place in implementation, the ministry said.

An advisory was issued by Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Director General, National Mission for Clean Ganga, to the district magistrates, who are also the chairpersons of the district Ganga committees, on May 11.

This was followed up by a letter the next day to the chief secretaries to prevent the dumping of dead bodies in the river and ensure enforcement of the government guidelines on the cremation of COVID-19 victims.

The letter also advised the states to provide financial assistance as well as regulate the rates for the cremation or burial process.

On May 15, the steps taken in this regard in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were reviewed at a meeting chaired Pankaj Kumar, Secretary, Ministry of Jal Shakti, and further action points were decided.

Highlighting the instructions already given, Kumar had called for expeditious action and underscored the need to give equal attention to such incidents in urban and rural areas along the Ganga and other rivers.

"Stopping of dumping of dead bodies as well as their safe disposal and protection of water quality have to be ensured on a war footing. After knowing the progress from the states, the CWC (Central Water Commission), the CPCB and the state pollution control boards would also be giving their feedback and action plans," he had said.

Mishra stated that the situation is being monitored and follow-up action is being taken in several districts such as Unnao, Kanpur rural, Ghazipur and Balia in Uttar Pradesh and Buxar and Saran in Bihar.

However, some cases have also been reported from other districts. He asked the state missions to keep an eye on the situation.

Mishra emphasised the need to strengthen enforcement, maintain vigil and take proactive action to facilitate and support the families for the cremation of the bodies and asked the state missions to specifically report on this.

"If needed, the project directors can assess and also give support to the district Ganga committees for this out of the NMCG funds available with them, while keeping the NMCG informed," he said.

Rajnish Dubey, Additional Chief Secretary, Urban Development, and Anurag Shrivastav, Principal Secretary, Jal Shakti and Project Director, State Ganga Mission, represented Uttar Pradesh in the meeting.

Shrivastava said all the district magistrates have been alerted about the issue and patrolling is being carried out to prevent dumping of dead bodies in the Ganga.

He also informed that 13 crematoria under Namami Gange, in addition to the existing ones, have been made available for the cremation of dead bodies.

It was informed that orders have been issued for financial support for cremations in urban areas. Dubey said similar orders for a financial support of Rs 5,000 have been issued by the Panchayati Raj department for rural areas and the SDRF and other forces have also been asked to carry out patrolling.

Anand Kishore, Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Project Director, State Ganga Mission, Government of Bihar, informed that it has been decided that the cremation or burial expenses of those dying due to COVID-19 will be borne by the state government.

He added that even if the deceased did not have a COVID-positive report but showed symptoms of the disease, the family will be offered this support.

He also said patrolling is being done to prevent further dumping of dead bodies in the river, especially in districts like Buxar and Saran (Chhapra).

CWC Chairman S K Halder informed that they are monitoring the flow and the water quality of the river through their stations and will further increase the frequency.

CPCB Member Secretary Prashant Gargava said the board has forewarned all water monitoring stations along the Ganga and her tributaries. The periodicity of testing the water quality has also been increased.

Debashree Mukherjee, Additional Secretary with the Jal Shakti Ministry, stated that besides an urgent assessment of the risks to the riverside communities by the pollution control boards, there is a need to raise awareness on the dos and don'ts as regards the use of river water and to prevent such incidents of dumping of bodies in the river.