By LE Desk
Chennai, April 29: Chief Justice of the Madras High Court Sanjib Banerjee on Thursday asked the Centre what it was doing for the last 12 to 14 months without anticipating the second wave of COVID-19 and getting prepared to face it.
Referring to desperate measures being taken when the wave was at its peak now, he said there cannot be ad hocism in dealing with a pandemic. The Centre should have acted in a planned and informed manner after obtaining expert advice, he said, as reported by The Hindu.
The observations were made during the hearing of a suo motu public interest litigation petition taken up by the court to monitor the availability of hospital beds, medicines, vaccines, oxygen, and ventilators in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The court had asked the Centre to respond on how it was helping the State and the Union Territory deal with the situation.
Presenting the Centre’s report, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) R. Sankaranarayanan said the Centre was coordinating between pharmaceutical companies that manufacture Remdesivir and the nodal officers of individual States to ensure seamless supply.
However, the Chief Justice, presiding over the first Division Bench along with Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, interrupted to say: “Mr. Solicitor, we cannot resist in asking this: All that you are showing is things that were to be hunky dory. But why are we in the present situation? What happened during the last 12 to 14 months? Why? Why are we jumping into action in the end of April to ensure that June becomes better?”
The ASG responded that the surge was not expected until recently. “Had they anticipated, they would have worked on that,” he said. Expressing surprise, Chief Justice Banerjee said, “Sir, without meaning any disrespect to anyone, did they even consult any expert?”
Mr. Sankaranarayanan said a group of experts were working on the pandemic and that they had taken into account various methods to find out whether there would be a surge and to what extent it would be.
Not convinced, the Chief Justice said: “Again, from a layman’s point of view, I have not met any respectable doctor who had advised against the letting the guard down in the last six months. I have not met or heard of any respectable doctor who had advised that… If even doctors had not advised that, who are the experts whom you had been consulting? We are in this state of absolute unpreparedness despite having a lockdown for most of last year.”
Further referring to the report filed on behalf of the Centre, the Chief Justice said: “All that we see here is that by June, it will be better and that by then it would have gone down. So, ultimately we are all depending on chance without knowing anything.”
The Chief Justice also referred to several other issues faced by the people such as the high price at which the vaccines were to be sold by the pharmaceutical companies to the State governments, the mad rush that was expected from May 1 when vaccination for people above 18 years of age would be opened up and the crashing of the CoWin website, on Wednesday, through which those who wanted to take the shots had to register.
“There cannot be any ad hoicsm in this. We repeat that we do not mean any disrespect to anybody. There are many institutions involved but we have to go into it in a planned and informed manner after obtaining expert advice. Resorting to ad hoicsm won’t help,” the Chief Justice said and adjourned the case to Friday for the Centre to reply as to how it had dealt with the crashing of the website and the earlier request of the court to reduce the prices of the vaccines.