Wednesday, 19 January, 2022
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Centre has special responsibility towards Delhi, can’t lose lives in political bickering: SC

During the 4-hour hearing, SC bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud took note of multiple issues, including vaccine pricing and oxygen availability. It will pass formal orders Saturday.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday said that as a national authority, the Narendra Modi government has a responsibility towards Delhi and is answerable to its citizens.

A bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud made the remarks during the suo motu proceedings related to the Centre’s Covid-19 management. It also said that the steep rise in the number of Covid deaths in Delhi had “shaken its conscience”.

“We do not want lives to be lost in political bickering,” the top court said.

“Delhi represents the nation and there is hardly anyone ethnically a Delhiite. Forget about whether someone could not lift the oxygen. You have to push through since you have to save lives Mr Solicitor. You have a special responsibility as the Centre,” the bench, also comprising Justices L.N. Rao and S.R. Bhat, told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

SG Mehta, in his submission, had said that the lack of oxygen in Delhi was due to the government’s inability to transport it from other states.

Meanwhile, at the hearing’s outset, the SC bench also said that no state could clampdown on citizens communicating their grievances or seeking help through social media.

This was in an apparent reference to a recent order passed by the Uttar Pradesh government directing authorities to take strict “civil and criminal action” against those making “false appeals over social media seeking help for COVID-19”.

The bench verbally said: “We will treat this as contempt of our court if such grievances are considered for action. Let us hear the voices of our citizens and not clampdown. Let a strong message go to all the states and the DGP (Director General of Police) of states. Clampdown of information is contrary to basic precepts.”

The court further reiterated its concern on the Centre’s vaccine pricing and procurement policy, remarking that one of the two vaccines (the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine Covishield) was available at a much-lower price in the US.

Although no formal order was passed in the latest hearing, the bench indicated that the broad issues it intends to cover in the order will be formally released Saturday.


Also read: Vaccination for all to begin on 1 May as planned, enough oxygen available, says Centre


SC asks Centre to look into vaccine pricing

From questions on the pricing policy of vaccines, supply of oxygen to the shortage of medical staff to treat Covid patients, the over four-hour long hearing addressed a range of issues related to the management of the pandemic.

A majority of the Supreme Court’s questions revolved around the pricing of the vaccines, which also remarked that the doses were overpriced for the states.

Reiterating that its initiative was to only help the government so that the health of citizens is protected, the bench urged the Centre to invoke its powers to make sure there is equitable pricing as well as distribution of the vaccine. It also said that manufacturers should not be allowed to determine the price of the vaccines.

“AstraZeneca is providing vaccines at far lower price to the US citizens, then why should we be paying so much? Manufacturers are charging you Rs 150 but Rs 300 or 400 to states. Why should we as a nation pay this, the price difference becomes Rs 30 to 40,000 crore?” said Justice Bhat.

“How will they determine equity? Invoke your powers to see that additional facilities are created for vaccine manufacturing,” Justice Chandrachud told Mehta, suggesting the government look into it.

The bench also suggested invoking the Drugs Price Control Order and the Patents Act to control the price of drugs required for Covid-19 treatment.

The judges further stressed on the significance of cooperative federalism and said that this was a public health emergency. It also wondered why the Centre was not adopting a national immunisation policy for Covid vaccination.


Also read: Told Modi govt in March second Covid wave afoot, expect peak in mid-May: Expert panel chief


‘Delhi government must adopt cooperative attitude’

As the hearing progressed towards supply of oxygen to the 12 worst-affected states, including Delhi, the bench took note of the shortage faced in the national capital.

On being told that the deaths were not due to lack of oxygen supply, the court said that there was a deficit of 200 MT in Delhi, which the Centre should straight away provide.

“If there is a 200 MT deficit then you should give that straight away to Delhi. Centre has an important responsibility, constitutionally as well, as far as citizens of Delhi is concerned. You have said surplus is there in the steel sector, then use that and supply it to Delhi,” the judges said.

Delhi government has consistently maintained that it had demanded 700 MT for oxygen, but was allocated only 490MT.

During the hearing, Sunita Dawra, additional secretary, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade under the steel ministry, pointed out that a live virtual control room maintained data of the amount of oxygen demanded by states, and the amount allocated and supplied by the Centre.

A presentation was made before the court and when asked if there was shortage of oxygen in Delhi, the officer claimed that the capital city’s administration had never asked for 700 MT in the past and the demand was raised only on Thursday.

Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for Delhi government, contested this claim and said the demand was placed before the Centre on three days — 17, 18 and 19 April. He added that in the wake of the surge in cases and projections about Delhi’s future Covid situation, the city’s oxygen requirement currently is 960 MT.

Justice Chandrachud referred to the Centre’s affidavit and noted that despite a 123 per cent increase in Delhi’s oxygen requirement, its allocation was not revised.

The bench then went on to ask Mehra to ensure that the Delhi government adopts a cooperative attitude with the Centre for the supply of essential medicines and oxygen to Covid patients.

“Please adopt a cooperative attitude at the time of a human crisis. Politics is during elections and not at the present situation,” it said and told Mehra to ask Delhi’s chief secretary to speak with the solicitor general.


Also read: MP, Maharashtra got more oxygen than asked, Delhi got far less, explain why, HC asks Centre


 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. The people of Delhi elected a con man as their leader. Now they are paying for it. Sad, but the bitter truth.

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