New Delhi, Apr 30 (ILNS): The Supreme Court today made it clear to all governments that clamping down on citizens asking for help on the internet in these COVID times by any government will be treated as contempt of the Supreme Court.
Justice DY Chandrachud, while, hearing pleas on related matters, said: “If the citizens are making their grievance clear on the internet, they should not be suppressed. I direct the Commissioner-General that clamping down of information will be treated as the contempt of this Court.”
In Uttar Pradesh, one person, who had asked for help to get oxygen for an aged person on Twitter, had an FIR lodged against him immediately. The man was let go with a warning, but the case seems to have been filed.
The Bench was hearing a plea in court, alleging that hospitals in Noida and Gurgaon have made it mandatory to produce an Aadhaar card with a local Noida or Gurgaon address, as the case may be, for being eligible to be admitted to the hospitals situated therein.
The Supreme Court bench, led by Justice DY Chandrachud, delved into the larger issue of safeguarding the right of a citizen to receive medical treatment anywhere.
Justice Chandrachud started by saying: “The way we propose to proceed is that, according to the National Plan filed by the Centre, we have identified some issue under various heads. The idea is to get an insight from various Counsels and Amicus on those issues.”
The Judge started to read the issues one by one.
“First is the oxygen supply issue. What is the mechanism to supply oxygen by the Centre? Can a mechanism be maintained (with daily allocation update) of how much supply is being made to states from the Centre’s end and the real time update on a software from state/district’s end indicating to citizens which hospital has been supplied oxygen and the quantities remaining such that it is easy for the citizens to identify the medical aid available?
“What are the restrictions, short of a lockdown, that the centre is doing to curb the spread of the virus? What effort has the government made in terms of increasing the availability of tanker, cylinders and from whom does it expect the supply of 800 additional tankers to come from? (No details have been provided in the affidavit).”
He then went to the second issue, which was about the vaccine. “How do the Central and state governments enable vaccine registration for persons, who are illiterate or do not have access to the internet, considering registration on the Cowin app is mandatory for the person aged between 18 to 45?
“Why should be there two prices of the vaccine, one for the Centre and the other for the state? There must be centralized procurement by the Centre and it should be distributed to the states. Ultimately, the vaccine is procured for the citizens of India.
“Third issue is of essential drugs such as Remdesivir and Tociluzumab. Is the Central government considering compulsory licensing of the essential medicines like Remdesivir and Tociluzumab? There is a concern that compulsory licences would deter innovators from innovating and developing products to tackle COVID-19.
“The Union has not explained the method of distribution of essential drugs, which has caused immense inconvenience to the citizens.”
The next issue that the Judge referred to was of Medical infrastructure. Is the Centre forming any guideline for the admission for the patients in hospitals? Hospital are acting in the arbitrary method. is the Centre doing anything to regulate the hospitals? What are the steps being taken to provide adequate treatment to those healthcare professionals who contract Covid-19 while providing assistance?
“If the citizens are making their grievance clear on the internet, they should not be suppressed. I direct the Commissioner General that camping down of information will be treated as the contempt of this court,” added Justice Chandrachud.
At that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the government, said: “I fully agree with the bench.”
Justice L Nageshwar Rao said: “I would request the advocates not to treat these proceeding as adversarial litigation. We are here to aid and give valuable advice to the Centre.”
Justice Chandrachud said: “I have read the news that one langar in Ghaziabad is providing assistance to the people. But let us not depend on them. We have the responsibility to protect the citizens and we should come up with robust plan. We need to assure the ramping up of the production of vaccine in the country. We are flagging these issues to move as a one nation to tackle the crisis of Covid in our country.”
SG: “Some writ petitions are filed on the subject of Covid in an adversarial nature, which should not be done. This is the issue of the nation and it cannot be taken as the issue of one state versus another state or state versus the Centre. In Gujarat there was a rule that only those patients will be admitted in the hospital who came via an ambulance called through the national emergency ambulance number 108. This rule was arbitrary and it has been immediately withdrawn by the state government.
“The immediate issue is the supply of oxygen, said the SG, “and I am going to explain what the Centre’s plan on this issue is.”
Justice Chandrachud: “We will now hear the SG and see his Powerpoint presentation and the Amicus Curie will look into all the IAs which have been filed in this case and express their views.
“We are also citizens; we are also facing the hue and cry of other citizens of the country. People are crying and begging for the oxygen cylinders. We want to save lives. Therefore, please come up with effective plan.”
SG: “A particular quantity was allocated to each state. The difficulty is of the transportation of oxygen. The states are not able to pick up the oxygen we are supply them because of logistical problems. There is one virtual central control which is consist of secretary of the Centre which is operating 24×7. Any state facing any problem can contact the Central Virtual Control Room.”
Justice Chandrachud: “No tanker which is carrying oxygen from one state to another shall be stopped.”
SG: “The centre is ready with 200 metric tonnes of oxygen. The states are welcome to come and lift the oxygen.”
Justice Chandrachud: “You are the Centre. Give us some solution.”
SG: “We are also providing the tankers to transport this issue will be resolved within a week. There is a nodal officer appointed to address these problems. There is some lacuna, some shortfall, I am not denying it. But please do not take it adversarial, we are also trying to find solution on the war footing.”
“We have to think of some out of box solution to tackle this situation,” the SG added. “It is the existential crisis which we are facing right now.”
Justice Chandrachud: “How much oxygen is available on a daily basis in India?”
SG: “I don’t know the exact amount, but we don’t have any shortage. As of now 10,000 metric tonnes of oxygen is available with the Centre.”
Justice Chandrachud: “The demand in Delhi is of 700 MT of oxygen. Then why have you have allocated only 480 MT of oxygen to Delhi?”
SG: “This fact only came to our knowledge in discussion in the Delhi High Court.”
Justice Chandrachud: “Why aren’t you providing 200 MT of the deficit to the Delhi? Please provide Delhi with oxygen. Daily 500 people are dying in Delhi. Out of my conscience I cannot let this issue pass.”
SG: “500 deaths are not taking place, just because of non-availability of Oxygen.”
Justice Chandrachud: “We are not here to criticize you, but in Delhi, people come from all over India. Therefore special arrangements should be made for Delhi. Forget that the Delhi government is not able to pick up the oxygen you have allocated to them. The Centre has the special responsibility towards Delhi to provide with oxygen.”
SG: “I bow down to your lordship. I will talk to the officers and we will devise some plan to provide Delhi with oxygen.” ILNS/AV/SJ/RJ/SNG