A division bench of Justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari at the Supreme Court said it would examine how far constitutional courts can venture into issues that fall within the Executive domain in relation to COVID-19 management.
The bench made these observations while hearing an appeal filed by the Uttar Pradesh government challenging the Allahabad High Court’s May 17 order commenting that the medical system in Uttar Pradesh’s smaller cities and villages appeared to be at the mercy of God or ‘Ram Bharose’ and directing the state to provide every B and C grade town with at least 20 ambulances and every village with at least two ambulances with intensive care facilities. The high court had said the ambulances should be made available within one month.
The top court on May 21 had stayed the high court order while issuing notice in the matter. It had not, however, stayed the proceedings before the high court. The SC had also refused to direct that Covid- related matters be heard by a Chief Justice-led bench but said the matter should have been heard by the Chief Justice.
When the matter came up for hearing today, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the UP Government, requested that the high court order be set aside in its entirety. He informed the bench that the matter was now being heard by the Acting Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court. When the bench inquired from Mehta whether he still wished to proceed with the matter, he said he wanted the high court order to be set aside. To this, the Supreme Court told Mehta that their order of May 21 eclipsed the high court order and thus there was no need to set aside the order under challenge.
Justice Saran who was heading the bench, however, said that the bench would like to see the subsequent orders passed by the high courts.
The court-appointed amicus curiae, Nidhesh Gupta, sought to submit that the high court had only made suggestions and asked the government to examine the viability to have its suggestions implemented. To this Justice Saran asked, “how can you justify remarks like “Ram Bharose”? Justice Maheshwari joined in and queried whether the court, if at all, could even give suggestions on something which was the domain of the Executive?
“You may be having hundreds of suggestions, but it cannot result in a court order. We are constitutional courts. Of course, there cannot be a straitjacket…”, Justice Maheshwari told the amicus.
The bench adjourned the matter to August 12.
On the other side, a special bench of three judges headed by Justice DY Chandrachud is examining the Centre’s vaccination policy which, with the nudged by the court, resulted in its revision, making vaccines free for all.