The second wave of the COVID 19 pandemic has wreaked havoc in the entirety of India. While the entire nation is in a state of panic and chaos, the Supreme Court of India, in a strongly-worded statement, has laid down some of the basic rights that the citizens of India must be granted. The possibility of civil or criminal action against people who post SOS messages on social media asking for help with oxygen shortages or drug availability was posed by the Supreme Court. The court has also asked the center to formulate a plan for admission to hospitals which would be followed countrywide and a buffer stock of oxygen must be created for emergency purposes.
No Clampdown on Information
The court has emphasized the importance of the free flow of information with regards to distressing social media posts on the scarcity of oxygen, essential drugs, and beds for COVID 19 patients. It has warned the state Governments against booking people for the same.
While not directly referring to the cases lodged against people in Maharashtra, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh for their social media posts, the bench consisting of Justices DY Chandrachud, LN Rao, and SR Bhat strongly object to any kind of action taken against these individuals who were merely looking for help. Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of UP, had also requested that those spreading "rumors" and lies on social media face legal action under the National Security Act and that their assets be confiscated. "If a citizen ventilates grievances through social media posts, there is no presumption that it is not genuine. There cannot be and should not be any clampdown on free speech," said Justice DY Chandrachud.
According to the court, any action taken by the state governments or the central government for the matter would be considered contempt of court and met with coercive action.
Hospitalization and Residential Proof
According to the new SC order, the Centre must formulate a national policy on hospital admissions within two weeks, which must be adopted by all state governments. No patient shall be denied hospitalization or essential drugs in any State or Union Territory before the Central Government formulates such a policy, and no patient shall be denied hospitalization or essential drugs in any State or Union Territory because of a lack of local residential proof of that State or Union Territory or even in the absence of any identity proof.
The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to collaborate with states on creating a buffer stock of oxygen for any emergency. This stock would be in a decentralized location. The court says that the stock should be created within the next four days and replenished on a day-to-day basis. This would be in addition to the allocated oxygen supply ensured to the states. The emergency stocks would be used in case the supply chain of regular medical oxygen was disrupted.
The bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud has also given the center until midnight on the 3rd of May to rectify the deficit in the supply of oxygen to the national capital, Delhi. The Centre was asked to revisit its protocol and initiatives towards the availability of oxygen pricing of vaccines and essential drugs.
In addition to this, the Delhi High Court has ordered the government to provide information on oxygen concentrators that are awaiting clearance at the customs department. Krishnan Venugopal, a senior lawyer, urged the court to order the customs department to clear the oxygen concentrators "on a war footing."
"Water has gone above the head. You have to arrange everything now. You have made the allocations. You have to fulfill it. Eight lives have been lost. We can't shut our eyes to it," said the bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli.
Differential Vaccine Pricing
The apex court said the new vaccination program would "result in a detriment to the right to public health" as it criticized the federal government over vaccine pricing disparities between the federal government and states.
According to the Supreme Court the Centre‘s vaccine policy currently, would prima facie(based on the first impression) lead to deterioration of the public health rights of citizens. Right to public health is an integral part of Article 21 and 14 of the Indian Constitution due to which the court has asked the central government to re-examine and assess the vaccine policy.
"Therefore, we believe that the Central Government should consider revisiting its current vaccine policy to ensure that it withstands the scrutiny of Articles 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution," the bench said.
Lastly, the court has directed both central and state governments to put on record the steps they are taking in order to curb the exponential surge in COVID-19 infections in India. The government must put on record the efforts that are already in place to check the spread and future steps that they plan on taking to bring under control the current COVID 19 crisis. The court also suggested the use of medical equipment and health care workers with the armed and paramilitary forces for the vaccination drive.