By LE Staff

New Delhi, April 24: High courts were free to deal with Covid-19 cases and the Supreme Court has not restrained them from giving relief to people in any way, the apex court has said. 

The clarification came during yesterday’s hearing on the SC’s suo motu case on Covid-19 and Centre’s subsequent submission for clubbing and transferring cases in different high courts on urgent pleas on a variety of issues.

“We never said a word and did not stop high courts. We asked the Centre to go to high courts and report to them. What kind of perception are you talking about? Talk about these proceedings,” the bench told senior advocate Dushyant Dave, at the outset of the video proceedings.

Senior lawyers have widely criticised the Supreme Court’s decision to take over the issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic from the high courts.

Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde on April 22 said various high courts have been hearing cases on the COVID pandemic situation, which may lead to confusion, and all of these cases may be withdrawn to the Supreme Court.

“We as a court wish to take suo motu cognisance of certain issues. we find that there are six high courts – Delhi, Bombay Sikkim, MP, Calcutta and Allahabad. They are exercising jurisdiction in best interest. But it is creating confusion and diversion of resources,” the bench had noted.

The matters related to the pandemic largely concern the availability of oxygen, essential drugs, the vaccination process, restrictions imposed in the wake of the spread of infection.

This move evoked sharp criticism from various quarters, of which Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave made a mention in the Supreme Court yesterday.

The Supreme Court reacted sharply to criticism that it wanted to take over Covid-related cases being heard by various High Courts and said senior lawyers were ascribing motives when there were none.

Justice LN Rao said that even without reading the order or it being released, “non-existent” intentions were being imputed.

“Is this the way orders are spoken of outside even when no orders passed?” he asked.

“It was a matter of perception. Our (concern) was genuine as the Supreme Court had done it in the past.”

The bench then said it had “never stalled the High Courts”. 

“They went ahead and passed orders,” Justice S Ravindra Bhat, part of the bench said, adding that Mr Dave must protect the institution.

The bench said its intention was only to look into the interstate movement of oxygen, which had been a key point of contention between many states, including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana.

The bench then adjourned the Covid oxygen case to April 27 after the Centre sought time to file a response.

Apart from Mr Dave, many other lawyers have also criticised the Supreme Court’s perceived move to take over Covid-19 cases from the high courts. Senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi, Sanjay Hegde, Anjana Prakash, Chander Uday Singh, Vivek Tankha and Ravindra Shrivastava were among those who had expressed opinions in the news media and on social media that were critical of the SC’s perceived move.

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