How the courts stood as corona cases ravaged throughout India

By Haider Abbas

It has always been found that whenever there is a government of brute majority, the Executive succumbs and the tremors very often reach Judiciary too, and there have been countless examples of it since the past 70 years, notwithstanding the Keshavananda Bharti case. But, with the outbreak of COVID-19 the PM Modi government as well as BJP governments in their respective states have had a share of a ‘rap-on-the-knuckles’ by the respective courts.  Did not we hear Jordon health minister abdicating his office after oxygen supply had ran-out and the Iraqi health minister tendering his resignation after the hospital fire.  Can we expect any such morality here? Where people are dying in ‘thousands-a-day’ while the Modi government is busy into image boosting! The editorial of the latest Lancet speaks as to how BJP health Minister Harsh Vardhan, in early March declared that India was in the endgame of the epidemic. By May 4, the number of Corona positive cases are 3,78,000 a day and 222,000 have as yet died! Let it be a witness to history that while Modi fiddled with his priority of elections in five states and also with local-bodies elections in UP, India writhed with pain and agony by the painful scarcity of oxygen! While being touted to become a 5 trillion economy soon (sic).

 It is at this moment when as many as ten High Courts have come forward and rapped up the Modi government as to how this continued misfortune is being heaped on India. Something which never had happened in the history of India. The Allahabad HC , UP, on May 4, observed “We are at pain in observing that death of Covid patients just for non supplying of oxygen to the hospitals is a criminal act and not less than a genocide by those who have been entrusted the task to ensure continuous procurement and supply chain of the liquid medical oxygen,” a Division bench comprised of Justices Siddhartha Verma and Ajit Kumar, tells LiveLaw.

After the death of eight patients in a Delhi hospital, a visibly shaken Delhi HC on May 1, issued a strict direction to the Central Government to ensure that Delhi receives the allocated quantity of 490 MT oxygen today itself “by whatever means’ informed LiveLaw and three days later, the Delhi HC Division bench comprising Justices Vikram Sanghi and Rekha Palli, on the prevalent callousness had to ask Modi government, ‘”Are you living in ivory towers? Where are you living”, the bench remarked thus: “What you’re saying is that because Delhi Government didn’t raise the demand people should be allowed to die now? Is this what it’s come to? You want to quibble while people are losing lives?” before HC issued the show-cause notice for contempt. The Supreme Court, had already on April 30, directed the Modi government to rectify the oxygen deficit of NCT of Delhi on or before the May 3.

In Karnataka the pitiable condition is also the same as in Chamarajanagar Hospital 24 patients died due to lack of oxygen supply, which prompted KC HC Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Aravind Kumar on May 5, to ask the Modi government, according to BarAndBench, that ‘even (the) required quantities of oxygen are not being allotted by the Centre to the State amid the COVID-19 crisis. “Perhaps, if buffer stock of oxygen was there, the Chamarajanagar incident would not have happened.” It also ordered a judicial inquiry into the death of 24 patients. The Karnataka HC also sought to know central government of Modi if it wanted people to die?  On May 5, acquainted LiveLaw that Madhya Pradesh  HC Division Bench consisting of Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice Atul Sreedharan  directed the State Government to file a “complete action plan” for vaccination of both age groups and sought for stern action against black-marketers , The Court had earlier on May 2, observed that the ‘Ground situation of oxygen supply (wad) totally different from claims’ and had  also reiterated “state government to ensure regular and continuous supply of oxygen to all the citizens admitted anywhere either in government or private facilities”. There were around 74 deaths in the month of April in MP due to lack of Oxygen.

The Madras HC Division bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and  Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy took a  suo-motu on April 22, on reports of Remdesivir diversion, Oxygen supply, informs BarAndBench and ‘that it is only endeavouring to ensure that the State is on the top of things so that the crisis unfolding in other State does not take place in Tamil Nadu.’  It had directed the Modi government to take immediate steps that TN gets adequate supply of Oxygen but the answer of course is no where even close to be satisfactory.  The Patna HC Division Bench, on May 5, shows DeccanHerald,  comprising of Justices Chakradhari Sharan Singh and Mohit Kumar Shah, were so anguished over the inept handling of the situation by BJP supported Nitish Kumar government, which already had led to death of hundreds  of people in the last fortnight, that it suggested the government should hand over health services to the Armed Forces Medical Services!

The Jharkhand HC Division Bench, comprising of Chief Justice Ravi Ranjan and Justice Sujit Narayan Prasad took to a suo-moto notice on April 28, as per LiveLaw, of the State Government’s preparedness to deal with COVID emergency and called it a “serious issue of concern” that while the Drug Controller submitted that Remdesivir Injection and Favipiravir Tablets were being made available to top medical shops but people were not getting them. ‘This remark by the Jharkhand High Court had come days after it had observed that Jharkhand was heading towards a health emergency and that the non-availability of a CT scan machine was a matter of serious concern’. The BJP government in Uttarakhand is so insensitive towards people that the district magistrate office of Dehradun gave wrong phone numbers of oxygen-suppliers on the portal. The Chief Justice RS Chauhan had to order while hearing a PIL on the grave omission on April 29.

Chattisgarh HC Division Bench of Chief Justice P. R. Ramachandra Menon and Justice Parth Prateem Sahu, enlightened LiveLaw on April 26, that it took a suo moto cognizance matter related to the tsunamic second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the inadequacy in medical infrastructure to tackle the same, the Chhattisgarh High Court today directed the State Government, “To convene a meeting of all concerned to take stock of the situation as to the Oxygen supply/availability as on date and the imminent future requirement. Prudent steps shall be taken forthwith to ensure that no patient oses life in this State, for cessation of supply of Oxygen.”.

It was on May 6, when Gujarat HC, Division Bench comprising of Chief justice Vikram Nath and Justice Bhargav Karia , where BJP is in continuous power from the last two decades, lambasted the BJP state government,  and  observed that ‘Night curfew in Gujarat to curb Covid spread is ‘not enough’. The court also noted the state government’s May 3 affidavit was “lacking in various points and directions” that was given to it by the HC in an order dated April 27.  In the wake of such unprecedented affairs that a court after court has taken the state-governments to task, the Modi government, instead is in an absolute denial mode, as what the slugfest between Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren and BJP proves as the former had spoken that in his telephonic talk with Modi, the latter just spoke about his ‘Mann ki Baat’, and he could not even refer to the problems faced by Jharkhand for want of adequate supply of medicines and equipment to fight COVID-19!

No wonder, finally, the SC  Division Bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah ordered on May 6 the formation of a 12-member National Task Force  for an It is necessary that ‘an effective and transparent mechanism (to be) set up within the Union government for the purpose of allocating medical oxygen to all states and UTs for being used during the  pandemic. The Union Government has agreed to set up a National Task Force to streamline the process.”  Do doubt the Courts did intervene to put into their precious-little, but perhaps for those who have their lost their lives, it would be too-late for their beloved ones are never to return.  India, where black marketers are making a hell-out-of-a-profit, something very shameless has also come out; from Baghpat,  UP, a gang has been busted which disrobed the dead-bodies of their white shroud and sold them back in the market!

The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner and a political analyst. 

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