Wednesday, June 16, 2021

‘National emergency-like situation’: SC wants national plan on Covid situation, oxygen supply

New Delhi: As the country grapples with the current wave of COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court on Thursday took suo motu cognisance of the prevailing grim situation and said it wanted a “national plan” on issues, including supply of oxygen and essential drugs for treatment of patients infected with the virus.

Taking suo motu cognisance of the prevailing grim situation across the country, a Bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde said it would also consider the matter pertaining to the method and manner of COVID-19 vaccination in the country. The Bench, also comprising Justices L.N. Rao and S.R. Bhat, said it would examine the aspect relating to judicial power of the high courts to declare lockdown amid the pandemic.

It further said that at least six high courts are hearing COVID-19 related matters, leading to “confusion and diversion of resources” based on different priorities. The apex court appointed senior advocate Harish Salve as an amicus curiae to assist it in the suo motu proceedings.

The Bench issued notice to the Centre and said it would hear the matter on Friday. The top court said at least six high courts Delhi, Bombay, Sikkim, Madhya Pradesh, Calcutta and Allahabad — are dealing with issues pertaining to the prevailing situation. It said these high courts 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. “One high court thinks there is priority for one group while the other thinks there is priority for others. We want to know with regard to four issues — supply of oxygen, supply of essential drugs, method and manner of vaccination. We want to keep the power to declare lockdown to the State and this should not be by judicial decision..,” the Bench said.

“We want to issue notice on these four issues,” it said, adding, “We want to see a national plan on these four issues”. As the apex court said it would issue notice to the Centre and hear the matter on Friday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta asked the Bench whether the government would respond to the high courts on the COVID-19 issues pending there.

The top court said the Centre may present the national plan to the high courts. The Bench also observed that it might withdraw certain issues pending before the high court and deal with them.

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