The Supreme Court on Friday said the Centre should give out more details on Covid-19 preparedness vis-a-vis oxygen supply and why different prices for vaccines procured by the Centre and state government among other issues related to the Covid crisis and the collapse of healthcare infrastructure in many cities.
The bench was hearing a plea in court, alleging that hospitals in Noida and Gurugram have made it mandatory to produce an Aadhaar card with a local Noida or Gurugram address, as the case may be, for being eligible to be admitted to the hospitals situated therein, the Supreme Court bench led by Dr Justice D.Y. Chandrachud delved into the larger issue of safeguarding the right of a citizen to receive medical treatment anywhere.
Justice Chandrachud started by saying: “The way we propose to proceed is that, according to the National Plan filed by the Centre, we have identified some issue under various heads. The idea is to get an insight from various counsels and amicus on those issues.”
The judge started to read the issues one by one. “First is the oxygen supply issue,” he said. “What is the mechanism to supply oxygen by the Centre? Can a mechanism be maintained (with daily allocation update) of how much supply is being made to states from the Centre’s end and the real time update on a software from state/district’s end indicating to citizens which hospital has been supplied oxygen and the quantities remaining such that it is easy for the citizens to identify the medical aid available?
“What are the restrictions, short of a lockdown, that the Centre is doing to curb the spread of the virus? What effort has the government made in terms of increasing the availability of tankers, cylinders and from whom does it expect the supply of 800 additional tankers to come from? (No details have been provided in the affidavit).”
He then goes to the second issue, which is about the vaccine. “How do the Central and state governments enable vaccine registration for persons who are illiterate or do not have access to the internet, considering registration on the Co-win app is mandatory for the person aged between 18 to 45?
“Why should be there two prices of the vaccine, one for the Centre and the other for the state? There must be centralized procurement by the Centre and it should be distributed to the states. Ultimately, the vaccine is procured for the citizens of India. The third issue is essential drugs such as Remdesivir and Tociluzumab. Is the Central government considering compulsory licensing of essential medicines like Remdesivir and Tociluzumab? There is a concern that compulsory licenses would deter innovators from innovating and developing products to tackle Covid.
“The Union has not explained the method of distribution of essential drugs which has caused immense inconvenience to citizens.”
The next issue that the judge referred to was medical infrastructure. “Is the Centre forming any guidelines for the admission for the patients in hospitals? Hospitals are acting in an arbitrary method. Is the Centre doing anything to regulate the hospitals? What are the steps being taken to provide adequate treatment to those healthcare professionals who contract Covid-19 while providing assistance?”
“If the citizens are making their grievance clear on the internet, they should not be suppressed. I direct the Commissioner General that camping down of information will be treated as the contempt of this court.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the government, said: “I fully agree with the bench.”
Justice L. Nageswara Rao said: “I would request the advocates not to treat these proceedings as adversarial litigation. We are here to aid and give valuable advice to the Centre.”
Justice Chandrachud said: “I have read the news that one langar in Ghaziabad is providing assistance to people. But let us not depend on them. We have the responsibility to protect the citizens and we should come up with a robust plan. We need to assure the ramping up of the production of vaccines in the country. We are flagging these issues to move as one nation to tackle the crisis of Covid in our country.”
SG: “Some writ petitions are filed on the subject of Covid in an adversarial nature, which should not be done. This is the issue of the nation and it cannot be taken as the issue of one state versus another state or state versus the Centre. In Gujarat, there was a rule that only those patients will be admitted in the hospital who came via an ambulance called through the national emergency ambulance number 108. This rule was arbitrary and it has been immediately withdrawn by the state government.”
“The immediate issue is the supply of oxygen,” said the SG, “and I am going to explain what the Centre’s plan on this issue is.”
Justice Chandrachud: “We will now hear the SG and see his Powerpoint presentation and the Amicus Curiae will look into all the IAs which have been filed in this case and express their views.
“We are also citizens; we are also facing the hue and cry of other citizens of the country. People are crying and begging for the oxygen cylinders. We want to save lives. Therefore, please come up with an effective plan.”
SG: “A particular quantity was allocated to each state. The difficulty is the transportation of oxygen. The states are not able to pick up the oxygen we are supplying them because of logistical problems. There is one virtual central control which consists of the secretary of the Centre which is operating 24×7. Any state facing any problem can contact the Central Virtual Control Room.”
Justice Chandrachud: “No tanker which is carrying oxygen from one state to another shall be stopped.”
SG: “The Centre is ready with 200 metric tonnes of oxygen. The states are welcome to come and lift the oxygen.”
Justice Chandrachud: “You are the Centre. Give us some solution.”
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SG: “We are also providing the tankers to transport this issue and will be resolved within a week. There is a nodal officer appointed to address these problems. There is some lacuna, some shortfall, I am not denying it. But please do not take it adversarial, we are also trying to find a solution on the war footing.”
“We have to think of some out-of-box solution to tackle this situation,” the SG added. “It is the existential crisis which we are facing right now.”