SC has sought Centre’s response on — supply of oxygen, essential drugs, method and manner of vaccination and the power to declare lockdown
New Delhi: Describing the prevailing Covid situation as a “health emergency”, the Supreme Court on Thursday gave the Centre 24 hours to present to it a national plan on the supply of oxygen, essential medicines and manner and method of administering vaccine.
Emphasising on the necessity of a national plan on the supply of oxygen, essential medicines and vaccines, Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde, heading a bench also comprising Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, took suo motu (on its own) cognizance of the prevailing Covid situation which witnessed an unprecedented 3.14 lakh cases in the last 24 hours – the world’s largest single-day spike since the outbreak of the pandemic last year. More than 2,000 people succumbed to coronavirus in 24 hrs.
Coupled with the top court taking suo motu notice of the worsening Covid crsis in the country, the top court on Thursday also agreed to hear mining giant Vedanta’s plea for operating its copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu which has been shut down since 2018 on the ground that it would produce thousand tones of oxygen and give it free to treat patients.
As Tamil Nadu government opposed Vedanta’s plea for top court nod to begin operating its closed copper smelting plant on various grounds, including that the plea for reopening of the plant has already been rejected by the Supreme Court, CJI Bobde said, “We understand all this. We will ensure compliance of all environmental norms by the plant and its oxygen producing facility would be allowed to operate. We are on the oxygen plant.”
Saying that there is almost a national emergency, CJI Bobde told the Tamil Nadu government, “You don't put spokes in the solution.”
Appointing senior lawyer Harish Salve as amicus curiae to assist the court in the matter, the bench said that it will consider at a later stage transferring to itself the Covid related matters being heard by different high courts across the country.
As solicitor general Tushar Mehta sought a clarification that since top court has taken suo motu cognizance of the situation created by the surge in Covid cases in its second wave, should Centre now respond to the proceedings before the high courts, Justice Ravindra Bhat said, “You can submit the national plan to the high courts. It (suo motu proceeding) is not to supersede any order as of now”.
The CJI Bobde said that the issue of transferring the Covid related matter being heard by the High Courts to the Supreme Court can be considered at a later stage.
The court has sought Centre’s response on four issues — supply of oxygen, essential drugs, method and manner of vaccination and the power to declare lockdown.
Making it clear that the power to declare lockdown must rest with the state, the court said that it should not come from the high courts – an obvious pointer to Allahabad high court declaring lockdown in five major cities of Uttar Pradesh – Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi and Gorakhpur.
The top court had on April 20 stayed the Allahabad high court order passed the previous day, directing the lockdown in five cities of Uttar Pradesh.
Observing that the national plan is the need of the hours and the six high courts were exercising their jurisdiction in the best interest but were ending up creating confusion in the management of Covid crisis, the top court said, “We find that there are six high courts — Delhi, Bombay Sikkim, MP, Calcutta and Allahabad. They are exercising jurisdiction in best interest. But it is creating confusion and diversion of resources.”
The matter will be taken up for hearing tomorrow (Friday) with court making it clear that it will hear the solicitor general Mehta and amicus curiae Harish Salve only.
Vedanta’s plea for the reopening of its Thoothukudi plant got government push with solicitor general Tushar Mehta telling the court, “The country is in dire need of oxygen and the Centre is augmenting oxygen from whichever source. Vedanta wants to make its plant operational, let Vedanta only make it operational to manufacture oxygen for health purposes.”