SC Takes Suo Moto Cognisance of COVID-19 Situation, HC Cases May Be Transferred

Several high courts have been conducting urgent hearings on pandemic-related matters and coming down heavily on the Centre.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday announced that it was taking suo moto cognisance of the COVID-19 situation in the country, including the shortages of oxygen and various other required medication. The court has appointed Harish Salve as amicus curiae in the case and said it wants to see a “national plan” to tackle COVID-19.

Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde said various high courts have been hearing cases on the matter, which may lead to confusion. All of these cases may be withdrawn to the SC, he said. The bench said notice will be issued to the Centre today and the matter will be heard tomorrow.

At least six high courts are currently hearing matters relating to the pandemic, CJI Bobde said. “We as a court wish to take suo motu cognisance of certain issues. we find that there are 6 high courts Delhi, Bombay, Sikkim, MP, Calcutta and Allahabad. They are exercising jurisdiction in best interest. But it is creating confusion and diversion of resources,” the bench noted, according to Bar and Bench.

The notice will cover four issues, the bench said:

  1. supply of oxygen,
  2. supply of essential drugs,
  3. method and manner of vaccination and
  4. power to declare lockdown.

“We want the power to clear lockdown to be with states and should not be judicial decision. We issue notice to the Central government on these issues,” the bench continued.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta asked if the Centre still needs to respond to high courts, if the matter is now with the Supreme Court. “You can present the national plan. It is not to supersede any order as of now. You can submit that plan to high courts,” said Justice Ravindra Bhat.

The bench said it will decide at a later stage whether to transfer the cases from the high courts to itself. Mehta said in the meantime, the government would intimate these high court that the Supreme Court was hearing the matter.

The Delhi high court is scheduled to hear a related matter at 3 pm, LiveLaw reported.

Several high courts have been conducting urgent hearings on pandemic-related matters and coming down heavily on the Centre and some state governments for perceived mismanagement. One of the big issues has been oxygen supply.

The Delhi high court on Wednesday night said that the current emergency showed that “lives didn’t matter” for the Central government. The court was hearing an urgent petition by Max Hospital of Delhi and ordered the Centre to supply oxygen to hospitals “forthwith by whatever means”, even if it means diverting oxygen supplies from industrial units.

Similarly, the Bombay high court on Wednesday said it was “ashamed” of the Centre’s decision to reduce the oxygen supply to Maharashtra, and ordered that it be reinstated immediately. Maharashtra, which is shouldering over 40% of total viral infection in the country, has been in a peculiar state, seeking the Centre’s intervention for both oxygen and essential drugs. Several Maha Vikas Aghadi leaders and state ministers have from time to time pointed to the alleged “discrimination” faced by the state and the lack of help from the Centre.

India on Thursday morning reported over 3.15 lakh new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, the most ever seen across the globe.