27 Apr 2021: Coronavirus: Supreme Court 'cannot be mute spectator during national crisis'
The Supreme Court on Tuesday clarified that the suo motu case on COVID-19 is not meant to supplant the High Courts.
The SC said that it cannot be a mute spectator during a "national crisis."
The court also asked the Centre to clarify the rationale behind vaccine pricing and appointed senior advocates Jaideep Gupta and Meenakshi Arora as Amici Curiae in the matter.
Court: Justice DR Chandrachud-led bench heard matter
A bench led by Justice DR Chandrachud and comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat heard the suo motu case on the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in India.
The court will issue notices on four affairs: the supply of oxygen; the supply of essential drugs; the method and manner of vaccination; and the power to declare lockdown.
Quote: 'Role of Supreme Court is complementary in nature'
The bench said, "The object of these proceedings is not to supplant the High Courts or to take over from High Courts what they are doing. High Courts are in a better position to monitor what is going on within their territorial boundaries."
"During national crisis, Supreme Court cannot be a mute spectator. The role of the Supreme Court is complementary in nature."
Context: Critics said SC usurped jurisdiction of HCs
The SC had taken suo motu cognizance of the matter on Thursday last week. It had said that COVID-related matters in six HCs were creating confusion and delay.
Senior lawyers, Bar associations of HCs and the SCs, activists, and politicians criticized the move, calling it an attempt to usurp the jurisdiction of the HCs, that had been making strong observations against the central government.
Vaccines: On vaccines, SC asks Centre to consider invoking Patent Act
On Tuesday, the court sought clarification on the pricing of COVID-19 vaccines. It orally urged the Centre to consider invoking provisions under the Patent Act to regulate vaccine prices.
"This is a pandemic and a national crisis," Justice Bhat stressed.
It asked the Centre to clarify the modalities put in place to meet vaccine shortage as the vaccination drive will be expanded from Saturday.
Fact: Court asks whether paramilitary, defense forces can be called upon
Further, Justice Bhat said, "We need to know about use in central resources of paramilitary forces who have paramedics and army facilities and army doctors and railways, these are common facilities which can be made available for quarantine, vaccination or beds."
Directions: Centre asked to apprise court on oxygen availability
The Centre was asked to apprise the SC on the total availability of oxygen.
The government should show the projected demand for oxygen now and future, steps taken to ensure augmentation of the same, the monitoring mechanism to ensure supply to affected states, share from the central pool for states, methodology for same, etc., Bar and Bench reported.
Directions: Clarify on projected vaccine requirements, pricing: Court tells Centre
As the vaccination drive is expanded from May 1, the court asked the Centre to clarify projected requirements, along with vaccine pricing.
The court said that steps taken to ensure the supply of drugs (such as Remdesivir) should be shown.
A comprehensive panel of doctors should be made available for citizens to know the steps to be taken during the pandemic.
Fact: Jaideep Gupta, Meenakshi Arora appointed Amici Curiae
Last week, senior counsel Harish Salve had recused himself as Amicus Curiae. The SC appointed senior advocates Jaideep Gupta and Meenakshi Arora as Amici Curiae. The matter was adjourned for further hearing after two days. It will subsequently be heard on a day-to-day basis.