Govt can’t fight pandemic on a day to day basis in an ad hoc manner: SC judge


Justice Chandrachud headed Bench was hearing a suo motu case covering govt’s COVID-19 management in second wave

Acknowledging one’s error is not a sign of weakness but that of strength, Supreme Court judge Justice D.Y. Chandrachud told the Union government.

“The ability to recognise that I am wrong is not a sign of weakness, but that of strength,” Justice Chandrachud orally addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, on Monday during a virtual hearing.

Justice Chandrachud was heading a three-judge Special Bench hearing a suo motu case covering the various fronts of the government’s COVID-19 management in the devastating second wave of the pandemic. The Bench has questioned the government’s dual vaccine pricing policy between the Centre and the States, the vaccination coverage in rural India, how it was almost impossible to get vaccination slots on CoWin, the “digital divide” in the registration process for vaccination in “Digital India” and how the dead are “thrown” into rivers or buried in shallow graves.

The court referred to a recent shocking video footage and pictures of two men throwing the body of a COVID-19 patient from a bridge into a river in Uttar Pradesh.

“I don’t know whether a complaint has been filed against the news channel for sedition for publishing the photograph…” Justice Chandrachud said.

This comment comes amid some States allegedly opting to register FIRs booking social media users and the electronic media under sedition on issues concerning COVID-19. The apex court had banned States from taking penal action in such cases in an order on April 30.

Justice Chandrachud said the government cannot fight the pandemic on a day to day basis in an ad hoc manner.

‘Policy needs to be clear-cut’

“You need your policy to anticipate changes. Your policy should also be enforceable on the ground. Your policy needs to be clear-cut. If new issues come up, your policy has to be amended… But first, there should be a degree of flexibility in you… It can’t be that you have made a policy and you cannot change that,” Justice Chandrachud said.

Mr. Mehta agreed that no policy was cast in stone. “If matters change, the government will have to change,” the law officer said.

Justice Chandrachud referred to how the External Affairs Minister had gone abroad for a dialogue with other countries on vaccines. “It shows the seriousness of the situation,” Justice Chandrachud said.

At one point, Mr. Mehta expressed his concern about having to trouble Justice Chandrachud, who has just recovered from COVID-19, with so many issues concerning the government.

“The interest of the nation comes first, my health comes later,” Justice Chandrachud replied.

Justice Chandrachud, to set the record straight with the Centre, said “the purpose of this hearing is dialogic. We are not going to run the Central government or make policy for you. This is a platform for dialogue across the spectrum… The idea is not to criticise but to strengthen the arms of the government”.

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