The Supreme Court on Thursday took suo motu cognisance of the second COVID-19 wave that has swept the country. Issuing notice, the Supreme Court has directed the Centre to file a response on four core issues: Supply of oxygen; supply of essential drugs; the method and manner of vaccination; and lastly the power of the state to issue lockdowns only and not by judicial order, unless the high court notes instances of human rights abuse.
Outgoing Chief Justice of India SA Bobde will hear the matter first thing on Friday morning, which incidentally is also his last day in court. The top court has appointed senior advocate Harish Salve to assist it in this matter.
The top court noted that at least six high courts have taken note of covid management in their states.
"There is a lot of chaos happening. Some are using intemperate language, even the high court judges have lost their cool, CJI Bobde observed. "The high courts are rightly exercising their jurisdiction, but this is creating a lot of confusion and diversion of resources. One high court thinks they may have greater priority over other jurisdictions, but this may not possibly be even-handed, he said.
The bench however clarified that it did not intend to supersede the orders of any states, and if the Centre had any national plan drafted, it could present the same before the concerned high courts.
What the high courts have done
The top court took note of six high courts—Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Sikkim, Madhya Pradesh and Allahabad—that are hearing suo motu or PILs on covid management in their states.
The high courts have pulled up their respective state governments for failing to control the situation. Some like Delhi and Bombay also called for emergency late evening hearings on the issue of critical oxygen supply in the hospitals.
On April 19, the Allahabad High Court had ordered a total lockdown in five Uttar Pradesh cities. In a scathing indictment of state governance, the division bench in Allahabad had issued strictures saying it could not remain as mere passive spectators while if the popular government has its own political compulsions for not checking public movements during the pandemic. However, the Supreme Court stayed this order a day later.
However, apart from the six high courts mentioned above, there are at least two other high courts—Gujarat and Telangana—which have taken note of the surge in covid cases and the resultant shortage of essential health services. Telangana high court has directed the state to file its response on a decision to impose a complete lockdown.
Earlier today, Madras High Court Chief Justice took suo motu notice of media reports on the diversion of Remdesivir—an anti-viral drug used to treat covid patients—along with the shortage of oxygen and is slated to hear the matter at 2:15 today.
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