The Indian Supreme Court on Sunday pronounced a set of directions for the central and state governments in light of the humanitarian crisis emerging from India’s second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The case, In Re: Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services during Pandemic, is a suo moto writ petition that was initiated last week when the top court took cognizance of the COVID-19 related policy issues having a bearing on the country’s human rights framework.
The bench, comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, directed the central government to work in collaboration with the state governments to prepare a buffer stock of oxygen “to ensure supply lines continue to function even in unforeseen circumstances.” It also directed that the emergency stocks be present at decentralized locations so that they can be made available immediately in case of supply chain disruption.
Taking note of the varying standards for admissions in hospitals across the nation, the court directed the central government to exercise its statutory powers under the Disaster Management Act of 2005 and frame a nation-wide policy to ensure that no one in need is turned away from a hospital for no fault of their own. It stressed that no patient should be denied admission on the basis of identity proof, especially for lack of local address proof, as many people may have to travel to other cities if medical resources such as beds, oxygen and essential drugs are not available in their own city.
The court also took note of the targeting of distressed individuals seeking help as well as those engaging in pandemic relief work on social media, in the name of fake news, allegations of defaming the administration or damaging the country’s image. It unequivocally held that such targetted harassment will not be condoned, and directed governments to cease with any threats of prosecution of citizens raising grievances.