Stating that it cannot be a “mute spectator” during a national crisis, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said its suo motu proceeding to frame a national policy for COVID-19 management will not displace any of the cases currently being heard by the High Courts (HC) or prevent them for exercising their power. Instead, it would rather play “a complimentary role and help in issues they are not able to look into”.
This observation was made by a bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, which is hearing the suo motu case taken up by the Supreme Court (SC) regarding the shortage of essentials such as oxygen, medicines and vaccines required to fight against the coronavirus, reported The Indian Express.
Due to the deteriorating COVID situation across the country, various High Courts in the country have heard petitions and pulled up the Centre and state governments for their inaction over the lack of oxygen, beds and medicines in hospitals.
The SC however too had recently decided to take up some key issues related to COVID management and noted that the matter was being heard in several HCs, “creating some confusion” and “diversion of resources”. And that they would issue a national plan especially on supply of oxygen, essential drugs, method and manner of vaccination and declaration of lockdown.
Acknowledging that the HCs are in better position to look into such issues, the three-member bench of the apex court observed that it had decided to intervene since this is a case of “national or systemic issues and that at a time of national crisis the Supreme Court cannot be a mute spectator.”
Responding to this, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the Centre was not questioning anyone’s jurisdiction be it the HC or SC. However, he asked that the SC examine the steps that the Centre has taken so far and said that “certain issues of perception” existed.
The bench went to further ask for an explanation over the differential pricing of vaccines by the manufacturers. Pointing out that are powers under Section 6 of the Patents Act can be tapped into considering it is a national crisis with the pandemic, the bench directed the Centre to get all their facts together before the next hearing.
The SC also directed the Centre to file an affidavit on the rationale that was adopted towards vaccine pricing, the steps taken for augmenting critical medical infrastructure, including COVID beds, and to ensure essential drugs including Remdesivir and Faviprivir are available.
They also wanted the state governments to file their affidavits by 6 pm on Thursday (April 29) on the infrastructural facilities to fight COVID. Mehta has sought time till Friday to file his affidavit stating that many people assisting him have been affected by COVID.
The court, which had earlier appointed advocate Harish Salve, who recused himself, has now appointed senior advocates Jaideep Gupta and Meenakshi Arora as amicus curiae to assist it in the case. The SC has fixed the hearing at 12 pm on Friday.
Bombay High Court seeks answers from Centre on private distribution of Remdesivir
Meanwhile, the Bombay HC bench on Tuesday (April 27) hearing a PIL, had sought answers from the Centre’s lawyer about the procurement and distribution of 10,000 Remdesivir injections by a private individual, Dr Sujay Vikhe Patil, BJP MP from the Ahmednagar constituency, and has scheduled the next hearing for Thursday, April 29.
Earlier, the bench comprising Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni had asked, “How can 10,000 vials be made available by air-lifting them from Delhi by a chartered plane?” Would that not amount to private distribution by the person? adding that this was happening when Delhi itself is in crisis. “We want the drugs to reach everyone who is needy and should not be only in the hands of a few,” Justice Girish S Kulkarni said.
To the information provided to the court that the incident in Ahmednagar is not an isolated one and many such private individuals were procuring the drugs, the Bench warned that if they find further such instances where pharmaceutical companies are providing Remdesivir directly to private individuals, “we may pass an injunction against them”, said media reports.
The Bombay HC bench was hearing a PIL filed by a lawyer alleging improper management of the COVID-19 situation in Maharashtra and seeking directions over the key problems of Remdesivir and oxygen shortage among other matters. The reply that the bench sought from the Centre is to how private individuals were procuring COVID-19 drugs directly from pharma firms, even as these companies were meant to give its entire production to the Centre for free distribution to the states.
State bodies too are not being spared by the HC, as in the next hearing, this division bench directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) too to give them a status on the functioning of a COVID bed management in hospitals and how they can ensure that vacant beds are immediately reflected on the dashboard of the BMC’s portal.