The Jharkhand government hailed the Supreme Court for its timely intervention, saying it led to optimal distribution and utilisation of oxygen and other essential drugs amid the COVID-19 pandemic and termed the Centre’s objection to the judicial interference as “misplaced and unwarranted”.
The JMM-Congress coalition government was critical of the objections raised by the Centre on the scope of judicial review and the jurisdiction exercised by the top court in taking suo motu cognizance of the matter related to supply of medicines, oxygen and vaccines to deal with the massive second wave of COVID-19.
An affidavit has been filed by the Jharkhand government in the suo motu case on distribution of essential supplies and services during the pandemic, in which the Centre had on May 9 justified its COVID-19 vaccination policy and response to the pandemic and said: “any overzealous, though well-meaning judicial intervention, may lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences”.
The state government has also filed an intervention application in the matter seeking urgent directions to the Union government to disband the mandatory registration on Co-WIN application under the ‘Liberalised and Accelerated Phase 3 Strategy of COVID-19 Vaccination’ with regard to the state.
The affidavit filed by the state through Advocate General Rajeev Ranjan and Additional Advocate General Arunabh Chowdhury said, “The objection taken by the Union of India in its affidavit dated May 9, 2021, on the scope of judicial review and the jurisdiction exercised by this court in the present proceedings is misplaced and unwarranted”.
It said that with the recent surge of COVID-19 pandemic and the public health crisis which threatens to submerge humanity, “the intervention of this court was timely and the directions issued and measures suggested by this court has resulted in monitoring the health measures and ensuring the optimal distribution and utilisation of Oxygen, essential drugs, medical infrastructure and vaccination measures”.
The Jharkhand government further said that the unprecedented humanitarian crisis arising out of the pandemic, with which the nation is grappling at the present moment, “requires the intervention of this court to ensure that the central government and the States act in tandem in fighting the pandemic”.
The affidavit filed by the deputy secretary of the health department of the state said, “the continued supervision of this court is also required to bring in uniformity through the country with regard to the supply and pricing of vaccines, more so, when there is an acute shortage of vaccines faced by the states to vaccinate those in the age group of 18 to 44 years”.
It said Jharkhand has taken all steps necessary for ensuring compliance with the directions/measures suggested by the court in its order dated April 30, to contain the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to ensure compliances of the various SOPs and guidelines.
It said the state has also taken steps for compliance with the court’s directions and have created a 24×7 operational vehicle-mounted stock of oxygen cylinders for emergency use called ‘Sanjeevani Vahan’, which can be rushed whenever a request or SOS message is received from a hospital.
It said some other steps taken include decongestion of the supply chain by moving refilling demand to under-utilised oxygen refillers, creation of contingency/backup plan by the hospital to address short-term oxygen shortages, rational use of oxygen for management of COVID-19 and nomination of nodal officers in all districts for ensuring continuous and uninterrupted supply of oxygen.
Meanwhile, the application filed by the state government sought that it be allowed to design its own “robust, pragmatic and user-friendly mechanism” for registration for the COVID-19 vaccination process on the ground that the state has faced major difficulty in registering the potential beneficiaries as there are issues of digital literacy and digital exclusion apart from glitches in the portal, especially in rural areas.
“The Applicant State being the tribal-state and where the digital literacy rate is very low, it is difficult for its people to register online for vaccination via Co-WIN’s website or mobile application. The mandatory registration of Co-WIN for 18-45 years has led to the digital exclusion of people, particularly those who do not have smartphones or/and access to the internet connection,” it said.
The application said Jharkhand being a state with heavy forest cover and tough terrain has many villages that comes under network shadow area.
“Unlike Co-WIN, the Jharkhand State Portal (http://amritvahini.in) will support in the remotest of the areas irrespective of network connectivity so that the rural and tribal population of the state can easily reach out at the vaccination centre and get benefits of it with the same ease as urban population making ‘vaccination for all’ true in both letter and spirit,” it said.
On April 30, the top court had directed the Centre to formulate within two weeks a national policy on admissions to hospitals in the wake of the second wave of COVID-19 and said no patient shall be denied hospitalisation or essential drugs in any state for lack of local residential proof.
It had asked the Centre that in collaboration with the states it should prepare a buffer stock of oxygen for emergency purposes and decentralise the location of the emergency stocks.