New Delhi: Terming the massive resurgence of COVID-19 cases a “national crisis”, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said it cannot remain a mute spectator and made clear that its suo motu proceeding on devising a national policy for COVID-19 management is not meant to supplant high court hearings.
A bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said the high courts are in a better position to monitor the pandemic situation within their territorial boundaries and the apex court was playing a complementary role and its intervention must be understood in the correct perspective as there are some matters which transcend the regional boundaries.
There is a need for top court’s intervention on certain national issues as there might be matters related to coordination between states, it said.
“We are playing complementary role. If high courts have any difficulty in dealing with issues due to territorial limitations, we will help,” said the bench, also comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat.
These observations assume significance as some lawyers had criticised the apex court last Thursday for taking suo motu cognisance of the pandemic’s resurgence and issues by saying that high courts be allowed to continue with hearings.
A day later, on April 23, a bench headed by the then CJI S.A. Bobde, who has since retired, took a very strong exception to what it called unfair criticism by some lawyers and said this is how the institution is being destroyed.
The bench on Tuesday also took note of the submissions of lawyers including senior advocate Vikas Singh on differential pricing of COVID-19 vaccines and asked the Centre to apprise it of the rationale and basis behind such pricing.
“Regarding pricing on vaccination different manufacturers is quoting in different prices. There are powers under Patents act. This is a pandemic and a national crisis,” Justice Bhat said, according to Bar and Bench.
In the court’s order, the bench said, “Union shall clarify the projected requirements of vaccine due to enhancement of coverage. Modality to be put in place to ensure that shortage and deficit would be looked into. Centre to clarify basis and rationale for pricing of vaccine.”
On the government’s decision to vaccinate all citizens above 18 years, the court sought replies from states by Thursday as to how they intend to cope with the surge in vaccine demand and the infrastructure required for that.
The bench also asked the Centre to apprise the top court of the modalities on distribution of oxygen as well as the vaccines to states and the monitoring mechanism.
In the hearing, conducted via video conferencing, the top court also appointed senior counsel Jaideep Gupta and Meenakshi Arora as amicus curiae to assist it in the COVID-19 management case as Harish Salve had sought recusal. Salve’s appointment had been criticised by some lawyers, including by some who said his close relationship with then CJI Bobde.
Last Thursday, the bench took note of the pandemic situation due to sudden surge in COVID-19 cases as also in mortality and said it expected the Centre to come out with a national plan to deal with distribution of essential services and supplies, including oxygen and drugs.
Observing that oxygen to patients infected with the virus is said to be an essential part of treatment, the top court had said it seemed that a certain amount of panic has been generated due to which people have approached several high courts seeking relief.
(With PTI inputs)