Even though the High Courts of several states like those of Delhi, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra had earlier taken suo moto cognizance of the crisis which has come hand in hand with the second wave of COVID-19 spread in the states, the Apex Court of the country itself took suo moto cognizance of the same on the 22nd of April. In these times of emergency, law courts have stepped in to seek accountability from different state governments and the Centre.
The top court on the 22nd hinted towards its will to withdraw the various suo motu cases which were already taken up by various High Courts. Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde orally observed that the High Courts’ interventions were creating ‘confusion and diversion of resources’ despite thinking about the best interest of everyone.
The Supreme Court did not announce a stay on the hearings then going on in the High Courts and as a result, at least three High Courts had carried on with their suo moto cases; namely, Delhi, Madras, and Bombay High Courts.
When the High Courts got to know about the top Court’s move through the counsel of the Central Government, this is how each of the three reacted:
The Bench headed by Madras High Court Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee ensured that it was not trying to step into the executive’s domain and that it only sought to be appraised of the steps taken by the State of Tamil Nadu so far, to be satisfied that the authorities were on the top of the COVID-19 situation. The Madras High Court’s announcement of taking up a suo motu case revolving around the COVID-19 crisis in the state was made only hours before the Supreme Court announced the same.
Chief Justice Banerjee orally observed, “The matter will next appear on Monday, April 26th, 2021, if it survives at all since it is the submission of the learned Advocate General that a view has been expressed by the Supreme Court that all matters about COVID-19 may be consolidated and heard by the Supreme Court”.
In Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court was hearing a plea alleging improper management of COVID-19 in Maharashtra, when Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh informed the Court about the update given by the top Court. Chief Justice Dipankar Datta, who was on the Bench then asked whether the cases being dealt with by the various High Courts had been transferred to the Supreme Court, The ASG then pointed out that there was no stay or transfer and therefore, CJ Datta heard the case.
The Delhi High Court got to know of the development during the hearing of pleas filed by different hospitals in the national capital on the acute shortage of Oxygen supply. The Delhi High Court had announced that till the matter goes to the Supreme Court, it will not adjourn the cases. The Court categorically stated, “If the matter goes to Supreme Court, we will have a wider view. Till the matter goes to the Supreme Court, this is not a matter we can adjourn”.
On 23rd April, the Supreme Court Bench, led by CJI SA Bobde heard the suo moto case about the supply of essential drugs, oxygen, vaccination issues, and question on lockdown. Senior Advocate Harish Salve appeared in the Court as Amicus Curiae to assist it in the matter. Earlier than that, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) had opposed the decision of the Apex Court to take suo moto cognizance of COVID-19 related issues which were already pending before various High Courts across the country.
While the hearing was to commence shortly, the Gujarat High Court Advocates Association intervened in the suo moto proceedings, and Advocate Dushyant Dave appeared for the association. On the other hand, Activist Saket Gokhale had sought to intervene in the proceedings seeking to replace Senior Advocate Harish Salve as the Amicus Curiae since he also appeared for the Vedanta Oxygen Plant hearing. Following which Senior Advocate Harish Salve’s recusal was allowed.
The matter was adjourned to Tuesday.
Earlier than this hearing, CJI’s Tuticorin-based bench to consider an application by Vedanta seeking to reopen the Tuticorin based plant for only manufacturing Oxygen and supplying it free of cost. Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta had submitted that if a plant may reopen, then Oxygen should only be used for health in this pandemic.
However, Tamil Nadu had expressed vehement reservations about the reopening of the plant stating, there is a ‘trust deficit’ in the state concerning the Vedanta Plant. CJI Bobde questioned the counsel of Tamil Nadu and said, “Why don’t you fulfill your responsibility in manufacturing oxygen? Just because you have a problem with Vedanta, you will not manufacture oxygen? What kind of argument is this”?
The matter was scheduled to be heard on Monday, and Tamil Nadu was asked to file an affidavit.
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#Supreme Court, #Delhi High Court, #Madras High Court, #Bombay High Court, #COVID-19, #COVID-19 Crisis, #Vedanta Tuticorin Plant, #Tamil Nadu