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Covid mismanagement? Modi govt in 'denial mode' even as 10 High Courts sound alert

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 the judiciary. There have been countless examples of this over the last 70 years, notwithstanding the Keshavananda Bharti case. But, with the outbreak of Covid-19, the Modi government as also several State governments, mainly those under BJP, have had a share of a ‘rap-on-the-knuckles’ by their respective courts.
Did not we hear the Jordan 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? People are dying in ‘thousands-a-day’ while the Modi government is busy into image boosting. A recent “Lancet” editorial speaks as to how Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, in early March, declared that India was in the endgame of the epidemic.
As many as 10 High Courts have come forward and rapped up the Modi government, something that has never happened in India before. The Allahabad High Court (HC) 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."
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.” Three days later, the Delhi HC division bench comprising Justices Vikram Sanghi and Rekha Palli, on the prevalent callousness, asked the Modi government, "Are you living in ivory towers? Where are you living? What you're saying is that because the 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?"
The Supreme Court had already, on April 30, directed the Modi government to rectify the oxygen deficit in Delhi NCT 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 the state’s HC division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Aravind Kumar on May 5 to tell the Modi government, that “even (the) required quantities of oxygen are not being allotted by the Centre to the State amidst the Covid-19 crisis. Perhaps, if buffer stock of oxygen was there, the Chamarajanagar incident would not have happened.” It ordered a judicial inquiry into the death of 24 patients. It sought to know from Central government if it wanted people to die.
On May 5, the 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 (was) totally different from claims”, insisting, the state government should “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 the state 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. It said, it is only endeavouring to ensure that the State is on the top of things so that the crisis unfolding in other States does not take place in Tamil Nadu. It had directed the Modi government to take immediate steps so that the State gets adequate supply of oxygen.
The Patna HC division bench, on May 5 comprising of Justices Chakradhari Sharan Singh and Mohit Kumar Shah, was so anguished over the inept handling of the situation by the 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 on the State government's preparedness to deal with Covid emergency and called it a "serious issue of concern". It remarked this amidst Drug Controller submission that Remdesivir injections and Favipiravir tablets were being made available to top medical shops, even as people were not getting them. This remark by the Jharkhand HC came days after it had observed that the State was heading towards a health emergency and that the non-availability of a CT scan machines was a matter of serious concern.
The Patna High Court went so far as to suggest the government should hand over health services to the Armed Forces Medical Services
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. Chief Justice RS Chauhan had to order a hearing of a PIL on the grave omission on April 29.
The Chhattisgarh HC division bench of Chief Justice PR Ramachandra Menon and Justice Parth Prateem Sahu, on April 26, took a suo moto cognizance of the matter related to the second wave of the pandemic and the inadequacy in medical infrastructure to tackle the same. It 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 loses life in this State, for cessation of supply of Oxygen."
On May 6, when the Gujarat HC division bench comprising of Chief justice Vikram Nath and Justice Bhargav Karia lambasted the BJP government, observing, ‘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 when court after court took state governments to task, the Modi government remained in an absolute denial mode. Meanwhile, there was a slugfest between Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren and the BJP after the former told Modi in a telephonic conversation that instead of ‘Mann ki Baat’ the PM should speak ‘Kaam Ki Baat’. Modi, apparently, could not refer to the problems faced by Jharkhand for want of adequate supply of medicines and equipment to fight Covid-19!
No wonder, finally, the Supreme Court division bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah ordered on May 6 the formation of a 12-member National Task Force for “effective and transparent mechanism” for allocating medical oxygen to all states and UTs. The Union government agreed to set it up to streamline the process.
---
*Former UP State Information Commissioner, political analyst

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