New Delhi: As the country grapples with the current wave of COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court on Thursday told the Centre that it wants a “national plan” on issues including supply of oxygen and essential drugs for treatment of patients infected with the virus.
Taking suo motu cognisance of the prevailing grim situation across the country, a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde said it would also consider the matter pertaining to the method and manner of COVID-19 vaccination in the country.
The bench, also comprising Justices L N Rao and S R Bhat, said it would examine the aspect relating to judicial power of the high courts to declare lockdown amid the pandemic.
It further said that at least six high courts are hearing COVID-19 related matters, leading to "confusion and diversion of resources" based on different priorities.
The apex court appointed senior advocate Harish Salve as an amicus curiae to assist it in the suo motu proceedings.
The bench issued notice to the Centre and said it would hear the matter on Friday.
“We, as a bench and as a court, wish to take suo motu cognisance of certain issues,” the bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
The top court said at least six high courts -- Delhi, Bombay, Sikkim, Madhya Pradesh, Calcutta and Allahabad -- are dealing with issues pertaining to the prevailing situation.
It said these high courts are exercising their jurisdictions in bona fide and in the best interest.
“What is happening is that it is creating some kind of confusion and diversion of resources,” the bench observed.
“One high court thinks there is priority for one group while the other thinks there is priority for others. We want to know with regard to four issues -- supply of oxygen, supply of essential drugs, method and manner of vaccination. We want to keep the power to declare lockdown to the State and this should not be by judicial decision..,” the bench said.
“We want to issue notice on these four issues,” it said, adding, “We want to see a national plan on these four issues”.
As the apex court said it would issue notice to the Centre and hear the matter on Friday, Mehta asked the bench whether the government would respond to the high courts on the COVID-19 issues pending there.
The top court said the Centre may present the national plan to the high courts.
The bench also observed that it might withdraw certain issues pending before the high court and deal with them.
Mehta said he would intimate the high courts that the apex court has taken suo motu cognisance on the issue.
India registered over 3.14 lakh new coronavirus cases in a day, the highest-ever single-day count recorded in any country, taking the total tally of COVID-19 cases in the country to 1,59,30,965.
According to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Thursday, a total of 3,14,835 fresh infections were registered in a span of 24 hours, while the death toll increased to 1,84,657 with a record 2,104 new fatalities.
Issuing unusually strong strictures on the Modi government and private industries, the Delhi High Court had on Wednesday ordered the Centre to "forthwith" provide oxygen by whatever means to hospitals here facing shortage of the gas in treating serious COVID-19 patients, observing it “seems human life is not important for the state”.
"You are not exploring all avenues to augment oxygen supply. Beg, borrow or steal," the high court had told the Centre, and asked why it was not waking up to the gravity of the emergency situation. It also warned that certainly all hell will break loose with the stoppage of medical oxygen to the hospitals.
"Fact of the matter is there is an oxygen shortage. It is there for us to see. We cannot shut our eyes to it,” the high court had said during an extraordinary hearing of a plea on the matter on a public holiday, and added that the government cannot say it cannot provide more oxygen and people can be left to die on roads.
The Central government, represented by the Solicitor General, had thereafter, assured the high court that it will facilitate supply of the increased allocation of 480 metric tonnes of oxygen to Delhi and the same will reach the national capital without any obstructions.
The high court was conducting an urgent hearing on a public holiday on a plea filed by Balaji Medical and Research Centre, which owns and runs various hospitals in the name of Max, stating that if supply of oxygen is not replenished on an immediate basis, the lives of the patients who are critical and on oxygen support will be endangered.