'Can't remain mute spectator': SC terms COVID-19 as 'national crisis', questions Centre on differing prices of vaccines

There is a need for top court's intervention on certain national issues as there might be matters related to coordination between states, the bench said

FP Staff April 27, 2021 14:47:23 IST
'Can't remain mute spectator': SC terms COVID-19 as 'national crisis', questions Centre on differing prices of vaccines

Representational image. Reuters

Terming the massive resurgence of COVID-19 cases a 'national crisis', the Supreme Court Tuesday said it cannot remain a mute spectator and made clear that its suo motu proceeding on devising national policy for COVID-19 management is not meant to supplant high court cases.

A bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud said high courts are in a better position to monitor the pandemic situation within their territorial boundaries.

There is a need for top court's intervention on certain national issues as there might be matters related to coordination between states, it said.

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“We are playing complementary role, if High Courts have any difficulty in dealing with issues due to territorial limitations, we will help,” said the bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat.

The court has directed the Union government to apprise it about the rationale behind different prices of COVID-19 vaccines for the Centre and states. It has also told the state governments to file replies by 28 April on issues related to the availability of infrastructure for vaccinating all above 18 years of age. Further, it has asked the Centre to apprise it of the modalities on the distribution of oxygen and vaccines to states, and their monitoring mechanisms.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the West Bengal government, was quoted as saying by Bar and Bench, "For 73 years, vaccine price for Centre and states have been the same. It is for the first time that there is a differential price for Centre and state. As far as oxygen is concerned, the Centre can decide, but a task force can have state chief secretaries."

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said, "We should all be proud that this issue is being looked into by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and all political parties are coordinating across party lines. The jurisdiction of high courts or Supreme Court is not in question. We are only laying out steps that have been taken on a war footing."

Last Thursday, the bench took note of the pandemic situation due to a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases as also mortality and said it expected the Centre to come out with a “national plan” to deal with the distribution of essential services and supplies, including oxygen and drugs.

Observing that oxygen to patients infected with the virus is said to be an “essential part” of treatment, the top court had said it seemed that a certain amount of “panic” has been generated due to which people have approached several high courts seeking relief.

With inputs from PTI

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