04/30/2021, 19.47
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India’s Supreme Court slams Modi government for mishandling the pandemic

Top court overturns attempt to muzzle social media that criticised the government for deaths caused by oxygen shortages and rising vaccine prices that will harm the poor. In Tami Nadu, High Court asks what the central government has done in 14 months to prevent the disaster.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Increasingly, Indian courts, including the Supreme Court, are getting actively involved in the ongoing pandemic debate, highlighting the responsibilities of the Modi administration for the disastrous situation in which the country finds itself.

In India, 386,452 new coronavirus cases have been reported the last 24 hours with 3,498 deaths, this despite the arrival of the first shipments of aid pledged by 40 various countries. Against this background, the Supreme Court of India ruled today that the central government and Indian states cannot silence those who express criticism on social media for situations related to the pandemic.

“We want to make it very clear that if citizens communicate their grievance on social media and internet then it cannot be said its wrong information,” Justice DY Chandrachud said. “We don’t want any clampdown of information. We will treat it as a contempt of court if such grievances are considered for action.”

A few days ago, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath accused hospitals of spreading fake news via social media in posts complaining about oxygen shortages. The Indian government got Twitter to take down 52 tweets criticising Modi's handling of the emergency.

The Supreme Court also ruled against the Indian government’s vaccine pricing policy, which was supposed to come into effect tomorrow.

Hitherto, the federal government paid 150 rupees, less than US$ 2, per dose. However, under the new plan, not only are individual states supposed to buy vaccines for the 18-45 age group, but Indian manufacturers would be allowed to charge higher prices.

The Serum Institute, India's largest manufacturer of the AstraZeneca vaccine, has already said it will charge 300 rupee to state governments and 600 to private hospitals.

“How will they [the manufacturers] determine equity?” asked Justice Chandrachud, blaming the federal government for not directly buying all the doses.

“How will the poor and marginalised people find money to get vaccinated?” the court asked. “We cannot have this private sector model. We must follow [the] national immunisation model which we had followed since independence.”

Today’s rulings by the Supreme Court follow more criticisms from lower courts in individual Indian states against the Modi government.

In Tamil Nadu, the Madras High Court has been particularly harsh. On Tuesday it openly questioned everything the central government has done in the past 14 months to deal with the pandemic.

"Why are we acting only in April now though we had time for one year? Despite having a lockdown for most of the last one year, see the situation of absolute despair we are in", Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee told the Additional Solicitor General of India R Shankaranarayanan during a hearing over vaccine shortages after the latter said that current pandemic wave was “unexpected”.

"I have never met a respectable doctor who advised to drop the guard", the chief justice added. "Who are the experts Central Government has been consulting? [. . .] All that we see here is that 'in June it will be better'. We have been relying on chance”.

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