Hearing the suo motu case on the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in the country, the Supreme Court said on Friday that voices of citizens expressing their grievances on social media cannot be clamped down. The division bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, Nageswara Rao, and S Ravindra Bhat took cognizance of issues related to the supply of oxygen anti-viral drugs and various other policies linked to the pandemic.
“We want to make it very clear that if citizens communicate their grievance on social media, then it cannot be said it's wrong information. We don't want any clampdown of information. We will treat it as a contempt of court if such grievances are considered for action,” the bench warned.
Justice Chandrachud added, “We'll also hear citizens crying for oxygen cylinders. The ground situation in Delhi is such that oxygen isn't really available and same is the case with Gujarat and Maharashtra. Govt has to tell us what difference will be there from today and the next day of the hearing.”
The Centre told the top court that the transportation of oxygen tankers to Delhi is a huge logistic problem and it would be eased out soon. “Delhi's problem would be acute because it is a non-industrial state. By and large, we have been supplying oxygen to all states,” the government said, adding that control rooms are operating 24x7 for the supply of oxygen.
The bench also asked why the Centre did not follow the national immunization program policy with respect to COVID-19 vaccines. It also questioned why the government is not buying 100% of vaccine doses as it’s in the best place to determine equity and disburse. “Pricing issue is extraordinarily serious. How will the poor and marginalised people find money to get vaccinated? We cannot have this private sector model,” the court said.
Last week, the Health Ministry clarified the government announcement that the procurement price for both COVID-19 vaccines - Bharat Biotech's Covaxin and the Serum Institute's Covishield - remains ₹150 per dose and the same will be provided to states for free. Both SII and Bharat Biotech have also reduced prices for state governments amid objections.
The court also observed that even frontline doctors and healthcare workers were not getting beds for treatment, indicating the grim situation of the country. The bench said the healthcare infrastructure inherited over the past 70 years was not sufficient, and directed that hostels, temples, churches and other places be opened for converting them as COVID-19 care centres. Stating that the healthcare sector had come to a breakpoint, the court said retired doctors or officials could be re-employed in this crisis.