COVID-19 crisis | Won’t interfere in work of High Courts, says Supreme Court

Our role will be complementary: Bench.

Updated - April 27, 2021 11:16 pm IST

Published - April 27, 2021 02:23 pm IST - New Delhi

Relatives of COVID-19 patients wait to refill cylinders with medical oxygen at Naraina plant during the second wave of coronavirus pandemic, in New Delhi on April 27, 2021.

Relatives of COVID-19 patients wait to refill cylinders with medical oxygen at Naraina plant during the second wave of coronavirus pandemic, in New Delhi on April 27, 2021.

The Supreme Court cannot remain a “mute spectator” in the face of a national calamity. However, the apex court will not interfere in the work done by various High Courts across the country to monitor and manage life-saving COVID-19 management amid a second wave of the pandemic, a Special Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud made it clear on Tuesday.

The Bench, also comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat, sat for almost the whole day, grilling the Centre, States and authorities on the various aspects of COVID management in a Suo Motu hearing called ‘In re distribution of essential supplies and services during COVID-19’.

Also read: SC wants national plan on COVID-19 situation, including on oxygen supply

“During a national crisis, the SC cannot be a mute spectator. The role of the Supreme Court is complimentary in nature. The court will examine issues which travel beyond the boundaries of States and have national repercussions,” the Bench assuaged apprehensions that the apex court would derail the ongoing work of the HCs.

Over 11 State High Courts are hearing COVID-19 related cases and passing orders on a daily basis.

Also read: Coronavirus | SCBA moves Supreme Court, says High Courts best suited to deal COVID-19 situation at local level

“High Courts are best suited to make an assessment of ground realities in each States and find flexible solutions for problems faced by citizens. No need to interfere in the work of the HCs,” the Bench observed.

The Bench questioned the Centre about its vaccine pricing policy. It asked why different manufacturers were rating their vaccines differently.

Also read: COVID-19 | Supreme Court should’ve intervened during poll rallies, Kumbh Mela: Shiv Sena

Justice Bhat asked whether the Centre should not invoke a statutory regime and introduce uniform rates. The Bench asked how vaccines sold in private hospitals turn out more expensive.

“What is the rationale or basis for different manufacturers coming out with different prices? What is the Centre doing about it? Control the prices and bring them under a statutory regime under the Drugs Control Act or the Patents Act,” the Bench addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre.

Also read: Supreme Court’s move on COVID-19 cases is wrong: Congress

Justice Bhat pointed out to the law officer, “this is a pandemic and a national crisis. If this is not the time to issue such powers (to control prices), then when is it?”

The court directed the government to file an affidavit by April 30.

The Bench also appointed senior advocate Jaideep Gupta and Meenakshi Arora as amici curiae in the suo motu case.

Senior advocate Harish Salve had earlier withdrawn from his role as amicus in the case.

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