Supply Oxygen to Delhi, Revisit Vaccine Policy: SC Tells Centre

India presently battles a horrific second wave of the COVID pandemic and an acute paucity of life-saving resources.

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COVID-19
3 min read
As India battles a horrific second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and an acute paucity of resources, the Supreme Court, on Sunday, 2 May, informed the Centre that the deficit supply of oxygen to Delhi must be rectified on or before 3 May. Image used for representation purpose.
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As India battles a horrific second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and an acute paucity of resources, the Supreme Court, on Sunday, 2 May, informed the Centre that the deficit supply of oxygen to Delhi must be rectified on or before 3 May.

Further, the court, in its 64-page order, in a suo-motu writ petition, also asked the Centre to revisit its vaccine procurement policy, pointing out that the present police would “prima facie result in a detriment to the right to public health which is an integral element of Article 21 of the Constitution”.

The top court bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageshwar Rao and S Ravindra Bhat issued a slew of directions pertaining to what can be done in event of a lockdown, manufacture of essential drugs and hospitalisation of COVID positive patients, among other things.

On Oxygen Deficit and Supply

Pointing out that the situation on the ground in Delhi is “heart rending” and that “recriminations between the central government and GNCTD can furnish no solace to citizens whose lives depend on a thin thread of oxygen being available[sic.]”, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to:

  • Rectify shortage of oxygen supplied to Delhi must on or before 3 May, after taking on record the Centre’s assurance regarding the same.
  • Immediately create buffer stocks of medical oxygen, in a bid to address any future paucity.
  • Decentralise the locations of these reserves.

On Vaccines

On the issue of vaccines, the Supreme Court said:

“While we are not passing a conclusive determination on the constitutionality of the current policy, the manner in which the current policy has been framed would prima facie result in a detriment to the right to public health which is an integral element of Article 21 of the Constitution.”   

The Supreme Court, thus, asked the Centre to:

  • Revisit its vaccine procurement policy.
  • Not impose the responsibility of sourcing vaccinations for the 18-44 age group on the states since it will leave each of them “to negotiate supply schedules, delivery points and other logistical arrangements with the manufacturers” and “will produce chaos and uncertainty”.
  • Provide a break-up of the current and projected availability of vaccine stocks for the next six months; as well as a timeline for achieving immunisation of the newly eligible 59 crore persons (18-44 age group).
  • Give clarification as to any other alternatives were providing for ramping up the vaccine drive, in reference to the Centre’s arguments for not interfering in vaccine pricing.
  • Respond to certain queries pertaining to the grants given to Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, including “the full extent of direct and indirect grant/aid provided for research, development and manufacture of all existing vaccines and future vaccines that it proposes to authorise”.

What Else Did the SC Say?

The Supreme Court further asked the Centre to:

  • Ensure hospitalisation or essential drugs are not denied on grounds of a lack of a local residential or identity proof.
  • Set up a national policy on admission to hospitals within a period of two weeks. This policy ought to be followed by all states.
  • Consider imposing a lockdown to restrict the virus but also in case a lockdown is imposed, arrangements must be made beforehand to cater to the needs of these communities.
  • Provide information on whether the Centre planned to consider granting compulsory license so that more manufacturers could make vaccines and essential drugs like remdesivir to ensure adequate supplies.
  • Fix the price of essential drugs, in public interest, in such a manner that they are available to even the most marginalised section of the society.

Background

The apex court bench had, on Friday, 30 April, heard a suo motu case on issues, such as shortage of essential drugs, vaccination, the oxygen crisis, and various other policies, pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic and warned the Centre and states against the alleged clampdown on social media.

“We don’t want any clampdown of information. We will treat it as contempt of court if such grievance is considered for action. Let a strong message go to all the states and DGP of states. Clampdown of information is contrary to basic precepts. I flag this issue at the outset. We want to make it very clear that if citizens communicate their grievances on social media and the internet then it cannot be said its wrong information.”   
Supreme Court   

India, on Monday morning, reported over 3.92 lakh new COVID-19 cases, taking the active case load to 33.5 lakh.

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