Amid new record high COVID-19 cases in India, The Indian Supreme Court asked the Centre for a “national plan” on oxygen supply, essential medicines and vaccination method. The Supreme Court took a suo moto cognizance of the current COVID-19 situation and asked the Centre to put in place a policy on all the issues pertaining to oxygen supply, essential drugs and vaccination method.

Background: The Supreme Court on Thursday, April 22nd took the matter in its hands after six state high courts are hearing several pleas that involve oxygen crisis, lack of beds, lack of medication in hospitals. The hearing came one day after India recorded its biggest global surge in COVID-19 cases – 3.14 lakh fresh COVID-19 cases and over 2,000 fatalities

The hearing

A bench headed by Justice S.A. Bobde said that there are currently six state High Courts that are hearing pleas regarding COVID-19 management issues and that has been creating a lot of confusion.

“We as a court wish to take suo motu cognizance of certain issues. we find that there are 6 high courts Delhi, Bombay Sikkim, MP, Calcutta and Allahabad. They are exercising jurisdiction in best interest. But it is creating confusion and diversion of resources,” the Court ruled.

The Supreme Court hence in its judgement said that it will issue a notice on four of the following issues

1) Oxygen Supply

2) Essential medicine supply

3) Vaccination Method and manner

4) Power to declare a lockdown

The apex court also said that it wants the power to impose a lockdown to remain with the state and such a decision should not fall on the judiciary. “We issue notice to the Central government on these issues”, the top court said.

Harish Salve as Court’s assistant (Amicus Curiae)

The Supreme Court bench also appointed prominent lawyer Harish Salve as Amicus Curiae (an assistant of the court) to help the court in the issue.

Meanwhile, Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General, asked whether the Centre should respond to the state High Courts now that the Supreme Court is involved in the matter. To this Chief Justice of India Bobde said that the issue will be considered at a later stage when the Supreme Court will decide whether it should transfer matters from the State High Court to itself.

Delhi High Court hears Max Group’s plea

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, April 21, the Delhi High Court conducted two emergency hearings. The case involved Delhi’s Max Group which has the biggest hospital chain in Delhi. The group came forward to the Delhi High Court and asked for assistance as it had almost run out of oxygen for COVID-19 patients admitted to its hospital. The hospital group was seeking urgent supply of oxygen so that it could save the lives of more than 1,400 COVID-19 patients.

Delhi High Court asks Centre to explore all possibilities for oxygen supply

The emergency hearing took place at 9.20 PM on Wednesday night. The Delhi High Court’s bench of Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Rekha came down hard on the Centre and asked for it to explore all the possible avenues so that all the hospitals in Delhi have ample supply of oxygen.

“Beg, Borrow or steal, you have to provide oxygen”: Delhi HC

The bench ruled, “We want you to undertake maximum procurement from all sources. Beg, borrow, steal, whatever, you have to provide (Oxygen). You have plenary sovereign power. No industry will say no to you. You must take over.”

Meanwhile, Additional Secretary Sumit Dawra claimed that while India’s oxygen production capacity is at 7,200 Metric Tonnes (MT) per day, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country requires more than 8,000 MT of oxygen.

She said, “Stock from steel plants being added for medical use. When cases have increased rapidly, there were conflicting demands for oxygen. We have been doing intensive meetings with states, based on which we have done mapping for oxygen need. There are more cases in some states, where oxygen is not produced. So, there are logistical issues.”

“We cannot see people dying because of no oxygen”: Delhi HC

To this the Delhi High Court reasserted that no human being should die because of lack of oxygen. The Justice Vipin Sanghi headed bench said, “We cannot see people dying because oxygen is not there. Our concern is that nothing should happen in the night. In the meantime, if there are any casualties, you will have to take responsibility.”