New Delhi: Taking note of the grim situation created by the massive surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, the Supreme Court Thursday said it expects the Centre to come out with a national plan to deal with proper distribution of oxygen and essential drugs for the patients.
Observing that oxygen to patients infected with the virus is said to be an essential part of treatment, the apex court said it seems that a certain amount of panic has been generated due to which people have approached several high courts seeking reliefs related to the prevailing situation.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, which took suo motu cognisance on the issue of distribution of essential supplies and services during the pandemic, said prima facie it is of the view that the distribution must be done in an even handed manner according to the advice of health authorities
In these circumstances, we direct that notices be issued to the Union Government, the State Governments /Union Territories and the parties, who appeared to have approached the high courts to show cause why uniform orders be not passed by this court in relation to: a) supply of oxygen; b) supply of essential drugs; c) method and manner of vaccination and d) declaration of lockdown, said the bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat.
The top court said it is of the opinion that the Centre should respond, including on report on existence or otherwise and requirement of setting up of a coordinating body that would consider allocation of the above resources in a consultative manner (with the involvement of concerned states and union territories).
It said the Centre should respond by considering declaration of essential medicines and medical equipment including the above articles as essential commodities in relation to COVID and also on coordination of logistical support for inter-state and intra-state transportation and distribution of the above resources.
The situation in various parts of the country is grim. There seems to be a sudden surge in the number of COVID patients and mortality. Other than vaccination which is prophylactic in nature, COVID can be treated only by some drugs such as Remdesivir. Oxygen to the patients is also said to be an essential part of the treatment, the bench said.
It noted that drugs, oxygen and vaccination availability and distribution are being carried out by the governments, including the Centre, according to the protocols established by the health authorities.
Nonetheless, it seems that a certain amount of panic has been generated and people have invoked the jurisdiction of several high courts in the country seeking various reliefs such as Delhi, Bombay, Sikkim, MP, Calcutta, Allahabad and Gujarat, it said.
The bench said the high courts have passed certain orders which may have the effect of accelerating and prioritising the services to a certain set of people and slowing down the availability of these resources to certain other groups whether the groups are local, regional or otherwise.
The bench further said, Prima facie, we are inclined to take the view that the distribution of these essential services and supplies must be done in an even handed manner according to the advice of the health authorities which undoubtedly take into account relevant factors like severity, susceptibility, the number of people affected and the local availability of resources.
We expect the Central Government to place before this court a national plan for dealing with the above services and supplies during pandemic, it said, adding, The notice shall be made returnable tomorrow .
The top court, which said it would hear the matter on Friday, appointed senior advocate Harish Salve as an amicus curiae to assist it in the matter.
While taking cognisance on the issue earlier in the day, the bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, We, as a bench and as a court, wish to take suo motu cognisance of certain issues.
It said that different high courts are dealing with issues pertaining to the prevailing situation and they are exercising their jurisdictions in bona fide and in the best interest.
What is happening is that it is creating some kind of confusion and diversion of resources, the bench observed.
As the apex court said it would issue notice to the Centre and hear the matter on Friday, Mehta asked the bench whether the government would respond to the high courts on the COVID-19 related issues pending there.
The top court said the Centre may present the national plan to the high courts also.
Mehta said he would intimate the high courts that the apex court has taken suo motu cognisance on the issue.
India registered over 3.14 lakh new coronavirus cases in a day, the highest-ever single-day count recorded in any country, taking the total tally of COVID-19 cases in the country to 1,59,30,965.
According to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Thursday, a total of 3,14,835 fresh infections were registered in a span of 24 hours, while the death toll increased to 1,84,657 with a record 2,104 new fatalities.
Issuing unusually strong strictures on the Modi government and private industries, the Delhi High Court had on Wednesday ordered the Centre to “forthwith” provide oxygen by whatever means to hospitals here facing shortage of the gas in treating serious COVID-19 patients, observing it seems human life is not important for the state .