Most matters which landed up at the courts recently related to shortage of drugs and oxygen to treat critical patients.
Champions of democracy and the political executive often find fault with judicial activism but the recent instances where various courts provided relief to the pandemic-hit people when the elected governments appeared to be clueless, deserves a mention.
Most matters which landed up at the courts recently related to shortage of drugs and oxygen to treat critical patients as the devastating second wave of Coronavirus crumbled the country’s healthcare system.
The governments, which failed to anticipate the problem, struggled to arrange supply of medical oxygen but got entangled in their own red tape forcing the citizens to approach the high courts for relief.
As people panicked, the governments elected by them groped in the dark instead of being the first responders in a crisis of this magnitude while the courts, mandated to interpret and uphold the laws, assumed the role of ad hoc administrators.
Taking note of around six different high courts hearing the pleas related to shortage of oxygen and medicines needed to fight the pandemic, the Supreme Court took up the matter suo motu in an attempt to set things right.
When its various directives to the Centre could not resolve the issue, the top court finally set up a task force comprising well-known doctors to coordinate the production and supply of oxygen to the hospitals across the country indicating the Union health ministry had not been able to do its job properly.
The apex court also protected the citizen’s freedom of speech by pointing out the shortage of oxygen and medicines through the social media which provided a platform to the civil society to help those in distress.
As some private hospitals in Delhi started sending direct SOS appeals to the courts over oxygen shortage, indicating an absence of governance structures, the Arvind Kejriwal administration told the Delhi High Court that the Centre was not allocating the required quantity of oxygen for the city.
During the hearings, the Delhi High Court pulled up the state government for not trying enough to arrange oxygen for the city while the apex court asked the Centre to ensure supply of 700 MT oxygen per day to the national capital and warned of stern action in case of any laxity in the matter.
Earlier, miffed over the state government’s remark that oxygen tankers meant for Delhi had been blocked by neighbouring Haryana, the Delhi High Court warned that any person trying to do so will be hanged.
The court orders had come in the wake of shocking reports that shortage of oxygen had killed several critical Covid-19 patients in various Delhi hospitals while the state and the central governments played the blame game.
Later, when the Supreme Court heard pleas over differential pricing of the two vaccines – Covishield and Covaxin – Rs 150 per dose for the Centre and Rs 400 per dose for the states, and asked the Centre to have a uniform policy, a miffed central government told the top court that judicial interference would not help in the matter which should be left to the executive.
Some of the very strong observations related to mismanagement of Covid-19 were made by the Madras High Court which blamed the Election Commission for failing to implement pandemic protocols during election rallies in Tamil Nadu and Union Territory Puducherry.
The high court noted that the poll panel was responsible for the second wave of Coronavirus in the southern state and ordered the EC not to allow victory processions by candidates on the election results day May 2.
The high court’s oral observations, that a case of murder should be registered against the EC officials for not following Covid-19 protocols, were not part of the written order but were widely reported in the media.
Stung by the oral observations, the poll panel approached the apex court urging it to a ban media from reporting such remarks of the high court.
But the apex court noted that such oral observations were part of court proceedings and their correct reportage should be encouraged.
The Allahabad High Court pulled up the Yogi Adityanath government as it took note of death toll of poll officials during the Uttar Pradesh local body elections held during the pandemic.
The high court asked the government to record all such deaths and criticized the administration’s approach towards the issue.
The Allahabad High Court compared the deaths in UP due to oxygen shortage with genocide and said the system can’t leave the people like this.
At one point, the high court ordered lockdown in five cities Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur and Gorakhpur- to curb the spread of Covid-19 but the state government refused to obey the directive.
Noting that lockdown was the prerogative of the state government, the Allahabad high court said it was disappointed over the measures taken by the administration to curb the pandemic and called them an eyewash.
The high court also said that those in power should shun the attitude of my way or no way and should welcome suggestions from all quarters even as it expressed concern over lack of spread of the pandemic in the villages which healthcare facilities are generally lacking. The Supreme Court later stayed the high court order.
Taking note of a Public Interest Litigation, the Gujarat High Court pulled up the Vijay Rupani government over Covid-19 mismanagement saying, “Your affidavit does not reflect any of the ground realities…it is giving a rosy picture.”
In similar instances, the Rajasthan High Court directed the Ashok Gehlot government to save the lives of people by ensuring supply of medicines and oxygen and the Telangana High Court asked the K Chandrasekar Rao government to conduct one lakh Covid-19 tests per day when the administration explained less tests due to people not coming to the testing centres.
The Karnataka High Court order asking the Centre to ensure 1500 MT oxygen to the southern state every day was later backed by the apex court as well.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court also asked the Centre to provide oxygen to the two states Punjab and Haryana and UT Chandigarh, their common capital.
The Amaridner Singh government in Punjab pleaded the high court that it wanted 300 MT oxygen but the Centre had allocated only 227 MT, which too did not reach the state. The ML Khattar government in Haryana made similar submissions before the high court.
Though such interventions by the high courts have been appreciated by many, there has been another view that judicial governance should be avoided as managing state affairs during a mega crisis is not easy.
That said, in the larger public interest, responsiveness of the governments should be scrutinized more than the restraint of the courts.
As an independent media platform, we do not take advertisements from governments and corporate houses. It is you, our readers, who have supported us on our journey to do honest and unbiased journalism. Please contribute, so that we can continue to do the same in future.