National crisis says SC, warns against clampdown on raising grievances

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday warned that any coercive action by the police against people in distress sharing their plight or information on the shortage of oxygen, hospital beds, doctors and essential medicines on social media and seeking help will be contempt of court.

Pointing out that free flow of information on the deficiencies and needs during a  humanitarian crisis helps in dealing with it effectively, Justice Dhananjay Y. Chandrachud recalled that during the 1970 famine it was this flow of information that helped the government in tackling the problem effectively in contrast to the clampdown in 1918  Spanish flu pandemic.

Making it clear that police involved in the coercive action against people for writing distressing social media posts relating to Covid treatment will be hauled up for contempt,  Justice Chandrachud, heading a three-judge bench also comprising Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice R. Ravindra Bhat, said, “Let a message go out loud and clear to DGPs not to take action against citizens for social media posts about shortage of beds, oxygen shortage, condition of Covid care centres and hospitals etc during pandemic.”

Having warned the police against any action against the people for writing social media posts critical of the government’s handling of the second wave of Covid pandemic, Justice Chandrachud speaking for the bench said, “I flag this issue at the outset. We don't want any clampdown on information… If citizens communicate their grievances on social media and the Internet, it can't be said it's wrong information.”

Having sent an unequivocal message that any attempt to gag people from airing their grievances or concerns over the difficulties being encountered by them in the treatment of Covid patients, the court in another dig at the Centre sought to know the “rationale”  behind the different pricing of the vaccine for the Centre and the states.

Describing as “very disturbing” the different pricing for the Centre, states and private hospitals, the court asked, “What happens to the marginalised and SC/ST population? Should they be left to the mercy of private hospitals.”

The court asked the Centre why it can’t buy vaccines and embark on the lines of the national immunization programme.

Telling the Centre not to leave vaccine pricing to the manufacturers, the court said, “Don’t leave it to the manufacturers. How will they determine equity? Invoke your powers to see that additional facilities are created for vaccine manufacturing.”

The court also observed that AstraZeneca is providing vaccines at far lower price to US citizens then why should we be paying so much.

On the shortage of essential medicines, the court said that under the existing legal regime, India can side-step the patent regime and import Remdesivir from Bangladesh or produce it in India under license from Bangladesh.

The court also expressed concern over overworked doctors, nurses and other medical staff attending to Covid patients. The court said that be it government hospitals or private, the doctors and nurses attending Covid patients are reaching a breaking point and must be paid more.

On the conclusion of the four-hour-long hearing which commenced at 12 noon and ended at 4.20 PM with half-an-hour break, the court said that it will pass an interim order which will be uploaded on the top court’s website on Saturday.



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