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Cannot be mute spectator to crisis, says Supreme Court on bid to monitor Centre’s Covid prep

SC asks govt to clarify ‘basis and rationale on which Covid-19 vaccines are being priced’, and seeks response on availability of medical oxygen & medicines for Covid treatment.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court said Tuesday that it cannot be a mute spectator to a national crisis as it asked the government to offer responses on questions regarding India’s Covid-19 response. 

A three-judge bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud asked the government to clarify the “basis and rationale on which Covid-19 vaccines are being priced in the country”, and also sought its response on the availability of medical oxygen and medicines for treatment, as well as projected requirement of the two. 

The Supreme Court had taken suo motu cognisance of the matter last week, after several high courts delivered orders regarding the Covid situation in their respective states. 

The apex court, which lauded the initiative by high courts but said the orders had created “some confusion and diversion”, drew criticism for stepping into the matter, with several members of the legal fraternity viewing it as an attempt to curtail the power of high courts.

The top court Tuesday said it never proposed to “interdict” the high courts, as they were “best suited to make an assessment of ground realities in each state and find flexible solutions for the problems faced by citizens”.

“There are issues which transcend regional boundaries and if they (HCs) have any difficulty in dealing with an issue due to territorial limitations, the top court will help,” the bench said. 

The bench, also comprising justices L.N. Rao and Ravindra Bhat, added that it does not aim to enter the “domain of the executive” either, and rather intends to provide suggestions and valid solutions.

The court fixed 30 April to hear the matter again and told the central government to file its response by then. States, too, were asked to place their submissions before the court before the next hearing.

The bench appealed to the counsel for the Centre as well as states not to “use the platform to recriminate” each other. “We expect that the matter will be conducted in cooperation. That is an appeal from us,” the bench said.


Also read: Delhi HC wants Covid beds for itself, Delhi govt requisitions 100 rooms at 5-star Ashoka


‘Invoke Patents Act to regulate prices of Covid vaccines’

During the hearing, the bench orally asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to examine the necessity of invoking the provisions of Patents Act to regulate prices of Covid-19 vaccines.

“Regarding pricing of vaccination, different manufacturers are quoting different prices. There are powers under the Patents Act. This is a pandemic and a national crisis,” Justice Bhat said.

In its order, the court said the government should apprise it on the total availability of oxygen, and its current as well as projected demand. The government, it added, should detail in its affidavit the steps taken to ensure augmentation of oxygen supply, and the monitoring mechanism to ensure oxygen supply to states affected by shortage, among other things.

The Centre has also been directed to enumerate the measures taken to ensure supply of critical drugs such as remdesivir and others during the crisis.

The government, it said, should also clarify the projected requirement of vaccine due to enhancement of coverage. This was a reference to the vaccination drive for all adults that is kicking off on 1 May. The affidavit, the court said, should also provide information on the modalities it has put in place to ensure there is no shortage of deficit of vaccines.

“Comprehensive panel of doctors should be made available for citizens to know steps to be taken during the pandemic,” the court ordered, while wanting to know whether the Centre has formed such a panel or not.

‘Issues of perception, nobody anticipated second wave’

While the court was dictating its order on oxygen supply, Mehta requested it not to do so, saying it is being augmented. However, this did not stop the court from going ahead with its direction.

Mehta said the government was not opposed to any court hearing the matter. “We are not questioning anyone’s jurisdiction. You have to examine steps taken by us. There are certain issues on perception. This is from early 2020 and how nobody anticipated the second wave,” he said.

As he presented the Centre’s affidavit, filed pursuant to the 23 April order, Mehta said the Prime Minister is personally examining the issue. It is a “proud moment”, he added, saying that “all political parties are coordinating with him”. 

Since the UK-based senior advocate Harish Salve recused as amicus curiae — following a controversy over his appointment — the bench named two senior advocates, Jaideep Gupta and Meenakshi Arora, as his replacement for assisting the court in the matter.


Also read: CJI agrees to proposal of setting up Covid centre in SC complex, Delhi govt to inspect building


 

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4 COMMENTS

  1. The sluggishness of the Bobde years is ending. The honourable apex court will play the role expected of it, the ultimate guarantor of the rights of Indian citizens, the Right to Life in the forefront. 2. Since Uttar Pradesh remains an integral part of the Republic, its government should be mindful of judicial oversight. A thousand patients being asked to vacate hospitals because there is no oxygen – the Gorakhpur model – and the CM threatening to invoke NSA, even confiscate property, of those who point out shortages. 3. A time for accountability in governance.

  2. India needs a constitutional amendment to cut down these unelected tyrants’ arrogance to size. What a bunch of buffoons!

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