COVID-19: SC directs Centre to ensure Oxygen supply, availability of essential drugs in Delhi by tomorrow

The Supreme Court has directed the Centre to ensure that the deficit in the supply of oxygen to the GNCTD shall be rectified on or before the midnight of 3 May 2021. The Apex Court has passed a slew of directions in its Suo Motu petition. IN RE : DISTRIBUTION OF ESSENTIAL SUPPLIES AND SERVICES DURING PANDEMIC

A three-Judge Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat has directed the Central Government to formulate a National Policy within two weeks on admission to Hospitals, which shall be followed by all State Governments. 

“Till the formulation of such a policy by the Central Government, no patient shall be denied hospitalisation or essential drugs in any State/UT for lack of local residential proof of that State/UT or even in the absence of identity proof,” said the apex court in its 64-page Judgement, passed in a Suo Motu plea initiated by it on COVID-19 situation in the country. 

“The Central Government shall, in collaboration with the States, prepare a buffer stock of oxygen for emergency purposes and decentralise the location of emergency stocks. The emergency stocks shall be created within the next four days and is to be replenished on a day-to-day basis, in addition to the existing allocation of oxygen supply to the states,” directed the top court. 

The apex court also directed the Central Government to revisit its initiatives and protocols, including on the availability of oxygen, availability and pricing of vaccines, and essential drugs at affordable prices and respond on all other issues highlighted in the order before the next date of the hearing, which is May 10, 2021. It directed the Centre to supply Copies of all affidavits to the Amicus Curiae in advance. 

The Court also directed the Central Government and the State Governments to notify all Chief Secretaries/Directors General of Police/Commissioners of Police that any clampdown on information on social media or harassment caused to individuals seeking/delivering help on any platform will attract a coercive exercise of jurisdiction by this Court. Further, it directed the Registrar (Judicial) to place a copy of this order before all District Magistrates in the country. 

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The Court also agreed to hear several other petitions filed in the Court regarding the COVID-19 situation in India. It said, “Several other suggestions have been made before this Court in IAs and writ petitions filed by diverse parties. In order to streamline the further course of hearing, we have requested the Amici to collate and compile these suggestions, which would be taken up later. The present order has focused on certain critical issues, in view of the urgency of the situation.”

The Court passed these directions in the Suo Motu plea on the supply of oxygen, ensuring availability of essential drugs, and streamlining the modalities for vaccination amid the COVID-19 pandemic in India. 

The Supreme Court noted the submissions on behalf of the Central Government that on April 24, 2021, DoP, NPPA and DGCI reviewed the production and supply of drugs such as Favipiravir, Enoxaparin, Ivermectin, Methylprednisolone, Paracetamol and Hydroxy-chloroquine. The Supreme Court also said that the supply of Remdesivir and Tociluzumab is already under the consideration of the Central Government. 

Therefore, it directed the Central Government to provide details of estimated demand of essential drugs mentioned above, production capacity, existing stocks, details of allocation and supply of such drugs.

The Top Court said that the Central Government can also consider using its powers under Sections 92, 100 or 102 of the Patents Act to increase production of essential drugs, to ensure that it is commensurate to the demand. The Central Government’s affidavit testifies to existence of capacity of public sector organisations and institutes, which can assist in augmenting production of various drugs and formulations. The utilisation of these capabilities to augment production, once licensing is resorted to, will be in the interest of the general public.”

It said the Court is of the opinion that prima facie, the present circumstance warrant the government’s examination of its extraordinary powers, meant to be used in extreme situations, such as the current pandemic, for fixing drug prices, be it vaccines, or patented formulations, having regard to the provisions of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and other provisions.

“We are cognisant that invocation of the above provisions, if any, is ultimately a policy decision of the Central Government and may encompass negotiations with the concerned stakeholders. We hope that the Central Government will adopt a route that best serves the public interest,” it added. 

The Court also appreciated the outstanding work of all healthcare professionals. It said, “We speak not only as members of this Court, but also as grateful citizens of the country, and commend the outstanding work of our all healthcare professionals (doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, laboratory technicians, ward staff, ambulance drivers, crematorium workers etc.) during this crisis. They have truly gone beyond their call of duty and toiled day in and day out, relentlessly without rest amidst great challenges. It is absolutely necessary to take urgent steps for their well-being to ensure that our appreciation for their tremendous efforts is not reduced to rhetoric.”

The Court has asked the Central Government to consider providing other facilities to Health Professionals, in addition to the schemes that are already in place. It said other facilities such as availability of food, resting facilities during intervals between work, transportation facilities, non-deduction of salary or leave account if afflicted by COVID-19 or related infection, overtime allowance, in both public and private hospitals, and a separate helpline for doctors, and healthcare professionals, in cases of COVID-19 related emergencies, shall be provided. All these, we feel, would show these professionals that we do not show our appreciation in mere words, but also care for them, the Court said. 

The Court further went on to state that in light of the continuing surge of infections in the second wave of the pandemic, “we direct the Central Government and the State Governments to put on record the efforts taken to curb the spread of the virus and the measures that they plan on taking in the near future. 

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“At the same time, we would seriously urge the Central and State Governments to consider imposing a ban on mass gatherings and super spreader events. They may also consider imposing a lockdown to curb the virus in the second wave in the interest of public welfare. Having said that, we are cognizant of the socio-economic impact of a lockdown, specifically, on the marginalised communities. Thus, in case the measure of a lockdown is imposed, arrangements must be made beforehand to cater to the needs of these communities,” it added. 
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