New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has told the Supreme Court that it took various steps in the “most professional manner to equip the nation” with everything required to deal with a surge in Covid-19 cases, before the massive second wave across the country.
In a 200-page affidavit filed before the apex court Tuesday, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) placed details of multiple meetings the government held with states between last year and now, and the repeated reminders it sent them to ensure implementation of Covid-appropriate behaviour in public places.
Prepared by the MHA additional secretary, the affidavit said it was placing certain facts before the court to “deal with a completely false narrative that after the onset of covid pandemic, during its peak impact and thereafter the nation did nothing and is caught unaware in the second surge”.
The document was submitted following a 23 April order by a bench led by the then Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde (now retired), which a day earlier had taken suo motu cognisance of the “national emergency” caused due to a sharp spike in Covid cases.
A newly-constituted bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud took note of the affidavit Tuesday. However, after the hearing it ordered the Centre to file a fresh affidavit with responses to its questions on Covid management.
What the Centre has written
In the affidavit, the Modi government enumerated measures it has taken to augment oxygen supply to 15 states where the pandemic surge has been steep. It said the Centre has allocated oxygen to the states in accordance with their projection, which is based on active cases.
In the case of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, however, the demand increased by 100 per cent in a span of five days, it said.
The affidavit also mentioned the requisite approval given to the seven companies manufacturing remdesivir injection to start operation of their additional manufacturing sites to scale up the Covid drug’s production from 74 lakh vials to 90 lakh vials per month.
Remdesivir is a listed drug to be administered in “moderate to severe” Covid cases, which, the affidavit said, are only 20 per cent of the total active Covid cases.
On shortage of tocilizumab injection, the government said it was an imported drug that has no manufacturing facility in India. However, it suggested use of domestically produced alternative drugs such as itulizumab, dexamethasone, methyl prednisolone, which are easily available in India and are as effective as tocilizumab.
Left it to states to take need-based decision
The affidavit also gave date-wise break-up of the meetings the Modi government held with states during the first wave of the pandemic as well as the guidelines it issued to the states on various issues, including effective implementation of preventive health measures.
Between September 2020 and 23 April 2021, the states were notified on this account 24 times, the affidavit said.
“It is respectfully submitted that after the initial outbreak of covid19 till the emergence of more serious second wave, the union of India continued to monitor the evolving system and continued to issue advisories to the state governments, taking note of the existing situation at the ground level, while leaving the discretion on the state government to take need-based decision untouched,” said the affidavit.
On 5 and 7 January, the Union Health Secretary wrote to Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, urging them to take prompt steps and keep a “strict vigil” to curb the spike in Covid cases, the affidavit said.
On 6 January, the Centre said a high-level team was sent to Kerala for supporting the state in public health interventions for Covid management. A similar team was again sent to Kerala, while another one was dispatched to Maharashtra on 2 February for supporting the states in Covid interventions.
Multi-disciplinary high-level teams were also sent on 24 and 25 February to seven states and UTs that witnessed a sharp spike. On 27 February, “states were advised not to lower their guard and enforce covid-appropriate behaviour”.
“States were advised to follow effective surveillance and tracking strategies in respect of potential super-spreading events,” said the affidavit, disclosing the contents of its missive to the states. This was reiterated through another letter on 28 February, it said.
Apart from sending advisories, the Centre also convened nine meetings to prepare “an adequate response” to the second surge in Covid cases. These meetings were either held by the prime minister or the Prime Minister’s Office, the affidavit said.