The apex court termed the pandemic situation as 'national crisis' and said that being the last Constitutional court, it cannot remain a 'mute spectator'.
Taking note of resurgence of COVID-19 cases, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre to apprise it of projected demand of oxygen in the country, how it intends to allocate it to “critically-affected” states and the monitoring mechanism to ensure smooth supply.
The apex court termed the pandemic situation as ‘national crisis’ and said that being the last Constitutional court, it cannot remain a ‘mute spectator’.
It has made clear however that its suo motu proceeding on devising national policy for COVID-19 management is not meant to supplant high court hearings.
The order, passed on Tuesday by a bench of justices D Y Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, was uploaded on the top court’s website on Wednesday and dealt in details aspects of its future hearings.
Supply of oxygen — The Court should be apprised by the Union of India on (a) The projected demand for oxygen in the country at the present point of time and in the foreseeable future; (b) The steps taken and proposed to augment the availability of oxygen, meeting both the current and projected requirements;
(c) The monitoring mechanism for ensuring the supply of oxygen, particularly to critically affected States and Union Territories as well as the other areas; (d) The basis on which allocation of oxygen is being made from the central pool; and
e) The methodology adopted for ensuring that the requirements of the States are communicated to the Central Government on a daily basis so as to ensure that the availability of oxygen is commensurate with the need of each State or, as the case may be, Union Territory, the order said, specifying issues to be taken up by the court on April 30.
It asked central government to consider framing a policy specifying standards and norms to be observed for admitting patients to hospitals and COVID-19 centres.
The order sought replies from the Centre and states on issues such as “enhancement of critical medical infrastructure, including the availability of beds, Covid treatment centres with duly equipped medical personnel on the basis of the projected requirement of healthcare professionals and anticipated requirements.”
The governments will have to apprise the top court about steps taken to ensure availability of essential drugs, including Remdesivir and Favipiravir, as also the modalities for controlling their prices, preventing hoarding and ensuring proper communication of the requirements at the level of each District.
On the issue of vaccination, the order said presently two vaccinations have been made available and as on date the programme has extended to citizens of the age of 45 years and above.
“From 1 May 2021, the vaccination programme is to be opened up also to persons between the age groups of 18 to 45, in addition to the existing age group categories. The Union of India shall clarify the projected requirement of vaccines as a result of the enhancement of coverage,” it said.
It has also sought response from the Centre on modalities proposed for ensuring that the deficit in the availability of vaccines is met and the steps proposed for enhancement of vaccine availability by sourcing stocks from within and outside the country.
The government will have to specify modalities for administering vaccines to meet the requirements of those above 45 years of age who have already received the first dose.
“How the supplies of vaccines will be allocated between various states if each state is to negotiate with vaccine producers and the steps taken and proposed for ensuring the procurement of other vaccines apart from Covishield and Covaxin and the time frame for implementation,” the order said.
It took note of different prices of COVID-19 vaccines for Centre, states and the private hospitals and asked the central government to explain to it the “rationale and basis” behind such a pricing policy.
“In order to allay the concerns of citizens, it is necessary that a panel of medical experts is nominated by the Central government to disseminate authentic information on all aspects including in regard to the steps which have to be taken for combating the pandemic.
“The Union of India may consider formulating modalities for ensuring due communication of advisories on a daily basis by the panel of nominated experts. This model may be replicated at the level of each State. This will ensure the dissemination of authentic information,” the order said.
The replies have to be filed by the Centre, the Chief Secretaries of state governments and the Union Territories by 6 pm on Thursday on the issues raised in the order.
The bench on April 22 took note of the pandemic situation due to sudden surge in COVID-19 cases as also in mortality and said it expected the Centre to come out with a “national plan” to deal with distribution of essential services and supplies, including oxygen and drugs.