We expect national plan from Centre on oxygen, drugs: SC


News info 

  •  Taking note of the ‘grim’ situation created by the massive surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, the Supreme Court expected the Centre to come out with a ‘national plan’ to deal with proper distribution of oxygen and essential drugs for patients.
  •  It seemed that a certain amount of “panic” had been generated, due to which people had approached several High Courts seeking relief related to the prevailing situation.

Suo motu cognisance- SC 

  •  A Bench, headed by Chief Justice, which took suo motu cognisance on the issue of distribution of essential supplies and services during the pandemic, said prima facie it was of the view that the distribution must be done in an “even-handed manner” according to the advice of the health authorities.
  • In these circumstances, they direct that notices be issued to the Union government, the State governments /Union Territories and the parties, who appeared to have approached the High Courts to show cause why uniform orders be not passed by this court in relation to -
  1.  supply of oxygen;
  2.   supply of essential drugs;
  3. method and manner of vaccination; 
  4. declaration of lockdown.
  • It was of the opinion that the Centre should respond, including on the existence or otherwise and requirement of setting up of a coordinating body to consider the allocation of the above resources in a consultative manner (with the involvement of the States and the Union Territories concerned).
  • The Centre should respond on considering the declaration of essential medicines and medical equipment, including the above articles, as essential commodities in relation to COVID-19 and also on coordination of logistical support for inter-State and intra-State transportation and distribution of the above resources.


Essential medicines and medical equipment

  • Section 3 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 - The Central Government, after consultation with the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB), specifies the devices intended for use in human beings or animals as drugs.
  • Drugs Technical Advisory Board is a statutory body constituted under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.
  • The function of DTAB is to advise the Central government and State government on technical matters related to drugs and cosmetics.

Medical Equipment Notified as ‘Drugs’

  • In 2020, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had notified that medical equipment would qualify as ‘drugs’ under Section 3 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act (D & CA), 1940 from 1st April, 2020.
  • The Medical Devices Amendment Rules, 2020 were also released. The Rules state that the medical devices shall be registered with the Central Licensing Authority through an identified online portal established by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO).
  •  Such registration is voluntary for a period of 18 months, after which it will be mandatory.
  • Only 23 medical devices had been classified as drugs. The 2020 notification gives a wide definition of the term medical devices.
  • The devices used for diagnosis, monitoring, treatment, assistance for any injury or disability, investigation, replacement or modification or support of the anatomy or of a physiological process will come within the scope of the definition of ‘Drugs’.
  •  Medical equipment under this definition include implantable medical devices such as knee implants, CT scan, MRI equipment, defibrillators, dialysis machine, PET equipment, X-ray machine etc.
  • Primary intended action of the device in or on human body or animals should not be pharmacological or immunological or metabolic.
  • The aim is to regulate all medical devices so that they meet certain standards of quality.
  • Besides it will also make medical device companies accountable for quality and safety of their products.
  •  The manufacture, import and sale of all medical devices will now need to be certified by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation.

To hear Vedanta plea

● In a related development, the Supreme Court, which termed the COVID-19 situation almost a ‘national emergency,’ agreed to hear Vedanta’s plea for opening of its Sterlite copper unit at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu on the ground that it would produce thousand tonnes of oxygen and give it free of cost to treat patients.

● The plant is closed since May 2018 over pollution concerns.

● The Bench headed by the CJI was unimpressed with the objection of the Tamil Nadu government which initially sought hearing of Vedanta’s plea and opposed its opening on various grounds including that it had been rejected by the apex court earlier.


Sterlite Issue

  • In September 2020, the Madras High Court has refused to allow the reopening of the Sterlite copper plant at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu.
  •  As expected, the company has moved the Supreme Court against the order.
  •  The plant was closed in 2018 after 13 people were killed by the police.
  •  The police fired on protesters demonstrating outside the factory premises against environmental pollution.
Sterlite Copper closure cripples downstream industries | Deccan Herald

Being a Refuge in Tamil Nadu

  • The project was driven out by Maharashtra and Goa for various reasons. Surprisingly, it found refuge in Tamil Nadu.
  •  The initial culpability should rest with the State government of the day that allowed the project to come into the State in the first instance.
  •  The State has been under the dispensation of either of the two Dravidian parties, all through the development of the Sterlite plant.
  •  There were intermittent protests against the project all these years. But the project went from strength to strength.
  • With close to 4,000 direct and 20,000 indirect jobs, the project helped the region around the port to prosper.
  •  It also helped India become a copper-exporting nation.

What does Sterlite do?

  • Sterlite Copper is a copper smelting unit and is a subsidiary of the London-based Vedanta Group.
  •  Sterlite produces non-ferrous metals like copper, aluminium and zinc, along with chemicals such as sulphuric acid and phosporic acid.
  •  The plant in Thoothukudi is one of two copper plants in the country, the other one being in Silvassa,Dadra and Nagar Haveli.

Impacts of the closure

  •  With the closure of the plant, India has been forced to become a net importer of copper after nearly 18 years.
  • The closure resulted in the complete evaporation of livelihoods in the entire region.
  •  The Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened the misery.


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