No state should clampdown on information if citizens communicate their grievances on social media, the Supreme Court said today amid an unprecedented surge in Covid cases across the country, stressing that the court will “treat this as contempt if any citizen is harassed”.
“It is of grave concern to me as a citizen or (a) judge. If citizens communicate their grievances on social media, we do not want clampdown on information. Let us hear their voices. We will teat this as contempt if any citizen is harassed if they want bed or oxygen. We are in human crisis,” Justice DY Chandrachud stressed today during a hearing. Even doctors and healthcare workers are not getting beds, the top court underlined, adding “the situation is grim”.
A frightening spike in Covid cases in India – hit by a deadly second Covid wave – has led to a deluge of SOS messages on social media as hospitals scramble for medical oxygen and other resources. This morning, the country saw yet another record spike with 3.86 lakh Covid cases, taking the caseload to 1.87 crore. International support has started arriving with the United States, the United Kingdom and several other countries sending Covid emergency supplies.
“There should not be any presumption that (the) grievances raised on internet by citizens are false,” the court insisted.
Hostels, temples, mosques, and religious places of worship should be opened to tackle the Covid spike, it further suggested.
As the government hopes to break the chain of transmission with new phase of vaccination, which will widen the coverage to all those who are 18 and above, the top court yet again questioned the centre over the pricing of vaccines. “Why is the government not buying 100 per cent of doses produced in this time? Why should there be two prices for the centre and the states… what is the rationale,” the Supreme Court asked.
Justice DY Chandrahud further said: “The centre has said that are leaving 50 per cent procurement to be done by states. Will this promote equity?”
The vaccine net widens tomorrow for adults aged 18-45 years even as several states – Delhi, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala – have red-flagged shortage. Apart from the shortage, pricing has been another contentious issue that has brought the government under criticism.
“Pricing issue is extraordinarily serious. 50 per cent of doses, which will be available free of charge, will be used for vaccinating frontline workers and those who above 45 years of age. Remaining doses will be used for adults who are 18 and above,” the top court said.
“Fifty-nine crore Indians in 18-45 age group constitute a large segment. How will the poor and marginalised people find money to get vaccinated? We cannot have this private sector model. We must follow national immunisation model which we had followed since independence,” the court further said.
Last week, the Health Ministry clarified that the government’s procurement price for both COVID-19 vaccines – Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and the Serum Institute’s Covishield – remains Rs 150 per doses and the “government procured doses will continue to be provided totally free to states”.
However, the Centre has tweaked its policy to allow states and private entities to buy doses directly from vaccine-makers. Manufacturers are free to supply 50 per cent of the doses to states and in the open market. Both SII and Bharat Biotech have reduced prices for the states amid objections.
Serum Institute of India’s Covishield will cost states Rs 300 instead of Rs 400, CEO Adar Poonawalla tweeted earlier this week. Bharat Biotech has reduced the price of its Covaxin for state governments from Rs 600 to Rs 400 per dose.