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[COVID19 Suo Motu Case]'During National Crisis Supreme Court Can't Be A Mute Spectator, Our Intention Is Not To Interdict High Courts': SC

Srishti Ojha
27 April 2021 8:01 AM GMT
[COVID19 Suo Motu Case]During National Crisis Supreme Court Cant Be A Mute Spectator, Our Intention Is Not To Interdict High Courts: SC

The Supreme Court on Tuesday clarified that the objective of suo moto proceedings taken up by it on COVID issues is not to supplant the High Courts or to take over from High Courts what they are doing.

"The object of these proceedings are not to supplant the High Courts or to take over from High Courts what they are doing. High Courts are in a better position to monitor what is going on within their territorial boundaries." Justice Chandrachud-led bench clarified.

"During national crisis, Supreme Court cannot be a mute spectator. The role of the Supreme Court is complimentary in nature. The issues which travails state boundaries is what this court will look into and thus Article 32 jurisdiction has been assumed", said the Court

The observation was made by a bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat while hearing the suo-moto case taken by it in relation to supply of Oxygen, medicines, vaccines to fight COVID19.

The Supreme Court has clarified that the purpose of the top Court court assuming jurisdiction suo moto under Article 32 is not to supplant or substitute the process of hearings undertaken by various High Courts to deal with issues related to pandemic.

"High Courts are best situated to make an assessment of ground realities in each states and find flexible solutions for the problems faced by citizens.Therefore, we see no reason or justification to interdict the High Courts", the Bench has said.

Having said that, the Bench further observed that there is still a need for Supreme Court to intervene on certain national issues, as there might be issues relating to coordination between states.

The Bench added that the intervention of the Supreme Court must be understood in the correct perspective. There are some issues which transcend the regional boundaries.

"At a time of national crisis, the Supreme Court cannot be a mute spectator" the bench observed.

The Bench clarified that the Supreme Court is playing a complementary role to the High Courts, and if they have any difficulty in dealing with an issue due to territorial limitations, the top Court will help.

"It is in that spirit that the Supreme Court has assumed jurisdiction suo moto under Article 32. Therefore, we clarify that the High Courts need not be restrained from dealing with the issues." the Bench observed.

A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat was considering the suo moto case In Re Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During COVID.

The bench has called for a report from the Central Government on issues related to supply of oxygen, essential drugs, vaccine pricing. The matter will be next considered on April 30.

At least 11 High Courts in the country are dealing with issues related to COVID management in their respective jurisdiction.


It was on April 23 that a bench led by the then CJI SA Bobde decided to take this suo moto case. The bench had observed the orders passed by various High Courts on COVID related issues "may have the effect of accelerating and prioritising the services to a certain set of people and slowing down the availability of these resources to certain other groups whether the groups are local, regional or otherwise".

The bench then issued notices to the Centre, State Government, UTs and parties before the High Courts to show-cause why the Supreme Court should not pass a uniform order is issues such as supply of medical oxygen, supply of essential drugs, supply of vaccines and declaration of lockdown.

This came under widespread criticism from the legal community, as it was apprehended that the Supreme Court was trying to take over the cases from the High Courts, which were passing urgent orders to deal with these issues within their jurisdictions.

Many senior lawyers also criticized the decision of the bench to appoint Senior Advocate Harish Salve as an amicus in the matter, instead of seeking the assistance of the Attorney General for India. It was also pointed out that Salve may not be not in a position to understand the present problems in India as he was a resident of London.

The Supreme Court Bar Association filed an application in the case saying that the High Courts should be allowed to hear the cases, as they are best suited to deal with the local issues.

The next day, Salve requested the bench to relieve him as an amicus in the case, saying he was disturbed by the criticism. He said that he did not want the case to be heard under a shadow that his appointment was based on his long friendship with CJI Bobde from school days.

The bench expressed displeasure at the criticism by the senior lawyers and asserted that there was no intention to stall the High Courts from proceeding with the case.

The bench said that the criticism was based on baseless perceptions as there was nothing in the order which stopped High Courts from dealing with the issues.

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