Allahabad HC on May 4 called the high number of deaths due to lack of oxygen “not less than a genocide by those entrusted the task to ensure continuous procurement of medical oxygen”; in other terms, the State.
Till now, the Supreme Court and at least 11 High Courts have taken cognizance of the gruesome health crisis that continues to unfold. The HCs in particular have been harsh in their criticism of the centre and state governments.
Allahabad HC, undeniably outraged by the Adityanath government, warned on an earlier date that if people die en masse due to insufficient medical aid, no one but the government would be to blame.
Also on May 4, the Karnataka HC took exception to Centre’s insufficient allocation of oxygen to the state, going to the extent of asking whether it intentionally wanted people to die (the centre’s lawyer replied that he could make no statement without meeting higher ups) Meanwhile, the Patna HC called Nitish government’s covid control policy “wrong” and told it to impose a lockdown in Bihar or the court would. A lockdown was soon imposed.
Higher courts taking such unequivocal views reveals how the Modi-led central government, in particular, has been so apathetic towards its people that the courts were forced to step-in and parent the executive. It also reveals that our constitutional courts don’t consider current rulers capable enough of resolving this crisis without their supervision.
After the first wave ended without large scale deaths, Modi’s belief in centralising decision-making, muzzling the media and ignoring experts was emboldened. Though, deploying this autocratic policy again when a more dangerous second wave hit India, proved to be a fatally irresponsible move that crushed the nation under the burden of avoidable deaths.
Realizing not enough people had been vaccinated, the Modi government brought out an unabashedly capitalist vaccine policy that left states and private hospitals to negotiate with manufacturers. The Supreme Court has come down heavily on the vaccine policy, calling it a “detriment to the right to public health” and ordered that the policy be revised.
Was vaccinating the whole population for free too radical an idea for his government? Perhaps it was, considering how it has continuously set lower standards for policy making. The elections for which his party underplayed the severity of the virus were lost by it in all states except Assam. The experts that Modi himself appointed were sidelined and never to be seen in public. The foreign aid that arrived was left to linger in bureaucratic mess. A lot of time was spent doing almost nothing.
Taking cognizance of the chaos, or “genocide” as Allahabad HC called it, our constitutional courts have come to the rescue. These courts must not only break the toxic centralised decision making system, but also compensate for the incompetence of the Modi-led central government. Admittedly, a huge task.
Madras HC has considered the Election Commission “singularly” responsible for the massive spread of disease, observing that its officers should “probably be booked for murder charges”. Soon after, the EC moved the Supreme Court to expunge these remarks and restrain the media from reporting these observations.
It is appalling that EC first conducted elections without accounting for pandemic contingencies, now it wants no liability for its criminal negligence. The EC should be booked under Section 269 of the Penal Code: “Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life.”
This editorial titled ‘Courts Come to Rescue: How Judiciary is Compensating for the Government’s Incompetence‘ has been written by Tushar Kohli and represents the collective view of the Editorial Team.
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