- The Supreme Court ordered forming a 12-member national task force for the effective and transparent allocation of medical oxygen to the States and Union Territories “on a scientific, rational and equitable basis.
- Judicial intervention came in response to the Union government’s failing response to the health crisis amidst the ongoing second wave of the pandemic.
MANDATE OF THE TASK FORCE
- Under its remit, the task force will make recommendations on augmenting the supply based on present and projected demands and facilitating audits by sub-groups within each State and UT is also part of the task force remit.
- The Court has also mandated it to review and suggest measures for ensuring the availability of essential drugs and remedial measures to meet future emergencies during the pandemic.
- Thus, the national task force has become a judicially empowered group that may significantly guide the handling of the health crisis set off by the second pandemic wave.
OTHER CASE OF JUDICIAL INTERVENTIONS
- Last week, the Karnataka High Court ordered that the Centre should supply 1,200 tonnes of medical oxygen daily to the State.
- Following this order, the Centre rushed with a challenge to the apex court.
- The centre has argued that if every High Court started entertaining petitions on equitable allocation of oxygen, pandemic management would become unworkable.
- But the Supreme Court declined to stay the order, describing it as a careful and calibrated one.
CONCERNS ON SUCH JUDICIAL ORDERS
- Several High Courts and the Supreme Court are examining different aspects of the pandemic response, including availability of beds and oxygen.
- The trend has raised concerns about the judiciary encroaching on the executive domain.
- These concerns are supported by the argument that allocation of resources based on a formula related to the present and projected requirements of each State is indeed an executive function.
REASONS BEHIND JUDICIAL ORDERS
- As the daily infection numbers and death toll have acquired frightening levels, the constitutional courts felt obliged to take it upon themselves to protect the right to life and good health of the population.
- Also, the judiciary had drawn strong criticism last year for its initial failure to mitigate the crisis set off by the lack of assistance to millions of migrant workers.
- Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who heads the Bench hearing the suo motu proceedings, has clarified that the Court was not usurping the executive’s role, but only wanted to facilitate a dialogue among stakeholders.
CONCLUSION As long as the position of judiciary is clear, the present intervention should not be seen as a dangerous overreach.