The Centre admitted in the Supreme Court that it was conscious of a second covid wave and the dangers that entails. This, the Centre said, prompted it to send messages to the state directing them to ramp up their capacity to deal the future. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta however clarified that the Centre had not anticipated its "magnitude".
The Centre's submission came when the Supreme Court was hearing its suo motu matter on issues arising from the second covid wave. During the hearing, the Supreme Court also questioned the government on its vaccine policy, vaccine procurement and pricing, and methodology behind oxygen allocation to states.
Following questions were asked by the Supreme Court:
1) What is the rationale between differential pricing? Ultimately the vaccines are for the citizens. Has the Centre considered following its national immunization program wherein vaccine procurement can be centralized, whereas the distribution can be decentralized?
2) Centre says states can procure 50% of the vaccines produced by the manufacturers. How will the manufacturers ensure equity among the states? Will one state get priority access over another?
3) Has the Centre considered invoking the Patents Act, 1970 and issue compulsory licenses to drugs manufacturers to ramp up production, while the royalty is sorted at the backend?
4) Has the Centre considered importing Remdesivir?
5) Has there been a direction to the testing labs to track the mutant variant of COVID-19?
When the top court began hearing the matter at noon, the bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud read out a detailed note reflecting issues they wanted the Centre to answer. Since some of the questions asked include the Centre to "rethink" entire policy issues, the matter will be heard on May 10, after the top court breaks for summer.
The court has also issued interim directions which will be detailed in its order, that will be made available tomorrow morning.
Clampdown on citizen requests for hospital beds/oxygen is contempt of court: SC
The Supreme Court clarified that states cannot clamp down on citizens seeking help and recourse through unofficial channels, including social media. "Let the message go to the states that if any citizen is harassed, it will be in contempt of this court," Justice DY Chandrachud said.
There should no clampdown on information, which should be in a free flow, the judge added.
The top court's clarification comes as a breather in light of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's direction asking officials to take action under the National Security Act by seizing the property of those individuals who spread "rumours" and propaganda on the lack of health infrastructure and try to "spoil the atmosphere".
Special responsibility when it comes to Delhi citizens: SC to Centre
The Centre also made detailed submissions on oxygen supply where it mentioned sources of oxygen augmentation, the mapping and routing of oxygen supply to states and the methodology behind the allocation of oxygen to states against projected demands made.
"So let me get this straight, the reason for the paucity of oxygen is because the states are unable to lift the oxygen allocated to them?," Justice Chandrachud asked, to which Solicitor General Tushar Mehta replied in the affirmative.
"The Centre allocates oxygen, but the states are responsible for picking it up from the source," Mehta clarified. Referring to Delhi, Mehta said that Delhi was unable to lift the oxygen allocated to them. There is more than 10,000MT of oxygen available on a daily basis, he added junking reports on oxygen shortage.
Referring to the severe oxygen crunch in Delhi, the top court then reminded the Centre that it had a special responsibility when it came to the citizens of the national capital. "Delhi represents the microcosm of the nation and represents people from all over the country, the bench said. "the centre has a special obligation if Delhi is unable to pick up its share of oxygen, make sure you push through and save the lives of its people," the top court added.
Why can't you follow national immunization policy?: SC to Centre
The top court had several queries on the issue of production and availability of vaccines. It asked the Centre why it couldn't follow the national immunization plan wherein, it could procure the vaccines but allow the states to distribute them.
"AstraZeneca (CoviShield) is providing vaccines at a far lower price to the US citizens, then why should we be paying so much? Manufacturers are charging you Rs. 150 but Rs. 300 or 400 to States. Why should we as a nation pay this, the price difference becomes 30 to 40,000 crores?" Justice S Ravindra Bhat said.
The Centre could control drug prices under the provisions of the Drugs Price Control Order, he added. Justice Bhat further stressed the need for cooperative federalism, stating that these were times of a public health emergency.
"Your (Central government's) affidavit says you have 10 PSUs who can manufacture. You can get licenses through the patent controller and get it manufactured," he added. "We are not directing it, but you should look into it," Justice Bhat said.