Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Covid-19: Supreme Court issues notice to Centre, States on PIL seeking invoking of NSA against those involved in hoarding, black-marketing

The Supreme Court issued notice on Monday to the Central government and all States over a PIL seeking invocation of the National Security Act (NSA) against people involved in hoarding, profiteering, adulteration and black-marketing.
A Bench of Justice Abdul Nazeer and Justice V. Ramasubramanian issued notice on a PIL filed by Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, which contended that the sentence and financial penalties for these offences should be such that it provides for reimbursement and compensation to the victims and their families.

The petition drew attention of the court to the articles published in various newspapers during the second wave of Covid-19 in April, 2021, stating that thousands of people belonging to the  Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Below Poverty Line (BPL) died outside hospitals due to hoarding of hospital beds, adulterated Covid medicines, black-marketing of medical equipment like oxygen cylindera and huge profiteering in the sale of life-saving injections like Remdesivir and  Tocilizumab.
The plea, filed by BJP leader Upadhyay, noted that people purchased Remdesivir injection for Rs 70,000, while it’s actual  price was Rs 899. It also mentioned oxygen concentrators and oxygen cylinders being recovered from different places in a large number.
Upadhyay noted in the plea that the quantum of fine as well as sentence prescribed under the Essential Commodities Act was too meagre to have a deterrent effect, given the gravity of the offence.
He said though the Act aimed at regulating the import of manufacturing and distribution of drugs, however, it was not adequate to curb hoarding, profiteering, adulteration and black-marketing, which deprived thousands of citizens of their fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.
The Advocate further sought probe by agencies into the benami property and disproportionate assets of such offenders.
He urged the governments to show political will and determination to end the menace and instil confidence in the people that the State will protect them, by framing stringent laws and bringing requisite amendments.
The Centre must examine the International Laws relating to the mentioned practices and take appropriate steps to insert a chapter for these offences in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), prayed the PIL. 
The petitioner further sought directions to the Law Commission of India to examine international laws on hoarding, adulteration, profiteering and black marketing, and prepare a report within three months.
Section 31 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which deals with sentences in cases of conviction for more than one offence, should not apply to laws relating to the practices mentioned, and the sentences should be consecutive, rather than concurrent, prayed the PIL.
It said the Supreme Court, as custodian of the Constitution and guardian of fundamental rights, could not remain silent, when the citizens had died as a result of such practices.
Case title: Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay vs Union of India and Ors


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