NEW DELHI: Coming down heavily on states that had ordered registration of FIRs against individuals appealing for help or sharing grievances on social media or elsewhere during the ongoing Covid pandemic, the Supreme Court on Friday warned that any such action will be treated as a contempt of court. A three-judge bench comprising justices D Y Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhatt said, “We will treat this as contempt of our court. Let us hear the voices of our citizens and not clampdown.”
The bench was hearing a suo motu case on the national plan to manage the Covid surge. The Uttar Pradesh government had recently ordered civil and criminal action against those making false appeals over social media seeking help for Covid-19.
Regarding the situation in Delhi where there is an acute paucity of oxygen and ICU beds, the bench urged the Centre to expedite plans to save lives. It also asked the AAP government to adopt a cooperative attitude and a spirit of dialogue with the Centre. The bench posed 10 questions to the Centre, adding: “Our hearing must make a difference.” A detailed order will be available on Saturday. The next hearing is slated for May 10. The judges questioned the national vaccination programme with Justice Bhat asking Solicitor General Tushar Mehta why the Centre cannot buy 100% of the requirement.
Sharing concern over the possible exclusion of the marginalised communities from the drive, the court said, “Fifty-nine crore Indians in 18-45 age group constitute a large segment. How will the poor and marginalised people find money to get vaccinated? We cannot have this private sector model.”
Turning to the procurement policy, the bench said the jabs the states have to procure are overpriced. “AstraZeneca is providing vaccines at a far lower price to the US. Then why should we be paying so much? Manufacturers are charging you Rs 150 but Rs 300 or Rs 400 to states. The price difference becomes Rs 30,000-40,000 crore. Why should we as a nation pay this?” Justice Bhat asked.
Govt’s special role to help Delhi
Delhi represents people from the entire country, the bench said. “Centre has a peculiar role. Forget if someone wasn’t able to lift oxygen; you (Centre) have to push through to protect lives.”
10 point poser
- Mechanism to show real-time data on oxygen allocation to hospitals doable?
- Restrictions to curb spread of Covid; measures to ensure tankers and cylinders reach destination?
- How to enable vax registration for illiterates or those without internet access?
- Will one state get priority access over another to get jabs? How will manufacturers ensure equity?
- Has Centre considered invoking Section 92 of the Patents Act to grant compulsory licences in the face of an emergency like this?
- New variant isn’t getting detected in RT-PCR test. Medical centres are driving away patients without positive report or charging high sums. What’s the policy in place?
- How have testing labs been directed to track second mutant variant? How is reasonable time frame met for reports?
- What steps to regulate very high hospital bills?
- What about shortage of med staff? How are docs safeguarded and treated for Covid?
- How much oxygen will be made available to critical states?