COVID-19 surge| As nation gasps for breath, Supreme Court calls for “even handed” distribution of COVID essentials like oxygen, Remdesivir; asks Centre to submit a “national plan”

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ has taken suo motu cognisance of the “grim” situation of the country hit by the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic and has asked the Central Government to report on,

  1. The existence or otherwise and requirement of setting up of a coordinating body that would consider allocation of COVID resources in a consultative manner (with the involvement of concerned States and Union 3 Territories).
  2. Considering declaration of essential medicines and medical equipment including the Drugs, oxygen and vaccination as essential commodities in relation to COVID.
  3. In respect of coordination of logistical support for inter-State and Intra-State transportation and distribution of the above resources.

Due to the sudden surge in the number of covid patients and mortality, the nation is witnessing a shortage of essential COVID resources such as Oxygen and drugs like Remdesivir.

While, drugs, oxygen and vaccination availability and distribution are being carried out by Governments including the Central government according to protocols established by the health authorities, the Court noticed that a certain amount of panic has been generated and people have invoked the jurisdiction of several High Courts in the country seeking various reliefs such as Delhi, Bombay, Sikkim, M.P., Calcutta, Allahabad and Gujarat.

“The High Courts have passed certain orders which may have the effect of accelerating and prioritising the services to a certain set of people and slowing down the availability of these resources to certain other groups whether the groups are local, regional or otherwise.”

The Court was hence, of the prima facie view that the distribution of these essential services and supplies must be done in an even handed manner according to the advice of the health authorities which undoubtedly take into account relevant factors like severity, susceptibility, the number of people affected and the local availability of resources.

It, hence, asked the Central Government to place before it a national plan for dealing with the above services and supplies during Pandemic.

The Court, hence, issued notice to the Union Government, the State Governments/Union Territories and the parties, who appeared to have approached the High Courts to show cause why uniform orders be not passed in relation to

  1. a) Supply of oxygen;
  2. b) Supply of essential drugs;
  3. c) Method and manner of vaccination; and
  4. d) Declaration of lockdown.

The Court will hear the matter tomorrow i.e. on 23.04.2021.

Senior Advocate Harish Salve, assisted by advocate Anuradha Dutta, has been appointed as Amicus Curiae to assist the Court in the matter.

[IN RE : DISTRIBUTION OF ESSENTIAL SUPPLIES AND SERVICES DURING PANDEMIC, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 339, order dated 22.04.2021]

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