The Supreme Court, in an order released on Sunday evening, directed the Central Government to ensure that the deficit in the supply of oxygen to the national capital is rectified within two days.
It also directed the Centre to prepare, in collaboration with the states, a buffer stock of oxygen for emergency purposes and decentralize the location of the emergency stocks.
“The emergency stocks shall be created within the next four days and is to be replenished on a day to day basis, in addition to the existing allocation of oxygen supply to the states”, the court said.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat also directed the Central Government and state governments to notify all Chief Secretaries/Directors Generals of Police/Commissioners of Police that any clampdown on information on social media or harassment caused to individuals seeking or delivering help on any platform will attract a coercive exercise by the court against them.
“It is with deep distress that we note that individuals seeking help on such platforms have been targeted, by alleging that the information posted by them is false and has only been posted in social media to create panic, defame the administration or damage the “national image”. We do not hesitate in saying that such targeting shall not be condoned”, the bench said.
In these trying times, the Court said, those desperately seeking help for their loved ones on these platforms should not have their misery compounded through the actions of the State and its instrumentalities.
It added preventing clampdowns on sharing of information on online platforms was not just in the interest of individuals sharing the information, but the larger democratic structures of our nation.
“Without the ready availability of such information, it is entirely possible that the COVID-19 pandemic may turn into a tragedy worse than what it already is”, the Court said.
It added sharing information widely would help in the creation of a “collective public memory” of this pandemic.
The bench said the court’s Registrar would send a copy of the order to all the district magistrates in the country.
Besides, the bench directed the Centre to formulate a national policy within two weeks on admissions to hospitals which shall be followed by all state governments.
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“Till the formulation of such a policy by the Central Government, no patient shall be denied hospitalization or essential drugs in any State/UT for lack of local residential proof of that State/UT or even in the absence of identity proof,” the court said.
It asked the Centre to revisit its initiatives and protocols, including the availability of oxygen, availability and pricing of vaccines, availability of essential drugs at affordable prices, even as it suggested the Centre and the state governments consider imposing a ban on mass gatherings and super spreader events.
They may also consider imposing a lockdown to curb the virus in the second wave in the interest of public welfare. It, however, made it clear that if a lockdown is imposed, arrangements must be made beforehand to cater to the needs of marginalised communities, it said.
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On the issue of augmenting the healthcare workforce, the court recommended that the Centre consider whether a large number of medical, nursing and pharmacy students, who graduated in 2020 and would be in the process of graduating in 2021, be available for the job.
It said Centre should also consider using the health care workforce available with the armed forces and paramilitary forces for the purpose of vaccination.
The court will now hear the matter on May 10.
The article was originally published in The Leaflet.