Three cheers Supreme Court. Its direction should, fingers crossed, stop Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in his tracks. During the suo moto hearing on issues related to oxygen supply, drug supply, and vaccine policy, on Friday last, the apex court specifically directed there ‘should not be any clampdown on information.’ Justice DY Chandrachud said: “We will treat it as contempt of court if such grievances are considered for action. Let a strong message go to all the States and DGP of States that clampdown of info is contrary to basic precepts…We want to make it very clear that if citizens communicate their grievance on social media and the internet, it cannot be said it’s wrong information.” Yogi should certainly make a note for not only has he claimed there is no shortage of oxygen, contrary to reports, but worse directed his administration to take ‘civil or criminal action against Covid-19 patients, their families or independent volunteers who issue appeals via social media platforms for oxygen and other medical assistance.’
The diktat has been challenged. On Wednesday last, a letter petition by social activist Saket Gokhale was moved before Allahabad High Court urging the government be asked to cease such action. He claimed that such appeals citing shortage in oxygen and drugs are being charged under the “false pretext” of spreading misleading information to target the state government. The letter said: filing such criminal cases “is a gross misuse of the powers of the state” and is illegal coercive action that is being taken to “maintain the image of the government” and to clamp down on any criticism of their handling of the pandemic and to present a fake picture that everything is hunky dory in the state.” According to reports Yogi’s diktat has led to volunteers and student groups to refrain from helping anymore lest they get entangled in legal cases. And while, there can be hope for apex court’s order doing wonders here, the Centre too must be cautious. It must think twice before arm-twisting social media platforms from taking down posts such as: #Oxygenshortage, #OxygenCrisis, #ModiMadeDisaster, “When Dead Bodies were Burning, Nero was busy doing election rallies” … Instead it would do well to realise the depth of the people’s anger and agony against it. After all it promised them “Achhe Din” and must have the courage to admit its mistake. Is it asking for too much?
Vaccine Drive Hiccups?
Centre’s vaccination drive for 18-45 age group may not start on May 1. Unwise and impractical is a clear message to it from most States. Not unreasonable but justified on two counts: One, big vaccine shortage and two, the priority is to give the 2nd dose to those 45 years plus. Thus, Madhya Pradesh has asked the younger lot to ‘have patience and not panic as it is hoped to get vaccine doses by May 3’; Kerala said ‘The slot for first dose will be allowed for online booking only after giving preference to those taking the 2nd dose’; Maharashtra said it can’t start with ‘a stock of 3 lakh doses’ and shall do so only when ‘it has at least 25-30 lakh to begin with’; Delhi informed ‘we will let you know in a couple of days or so. We haven’t received the schedule from companies yet, which includes how many vials will reach on which dates’; Gujarat said it has ‘ordered 2.5 crore doses’ and expects ‘at least a part to be made available within 15 days and that’s when it would begin’; Punjab said Covaxin price was on higher side of Rs 600 but as it’s brought down to Rs 400 they will now consider. Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Assam have already displayed unavailability of slots for the new group. The Centre grand announcement shall turn out to be a damn squib. Plus, till Wednesday midnight, 1.33-odd crore new sign-ins were registered online, out of 59.46 crore in that age group. Too tall an order. Shouldn’t it have done its homework rather than playing to the gallery both locally and globally?
EC Authority On Test
A battered Nirvachan Sadan has a big challenge ahead. Will it retrieve its reputation and ensure its Covid protocols are strictly followed this time round on vote counting day, May 2nd? It has now put a ban on all victory processions following the results in Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry, plus, capped the number to two persons to accompany the winning candidate to receive the election certificate, “in view of the surge in Covid-19 cases throughout the country”. Obviously, it can’t admit to getting its act together only after hearing a mouthful from Madras High Court on Monday last for allowing political parties to violate the protocols during rallies, and being directed to have a blueprint before counting, else it would stop it, for “this state does not succumb to your idiosyncrasies any further!”. It’s observations such as “ You have been singularly lacking any kind of exercise of authority… Were you on another planet when the election rallies were held…Your officers should be booked on murder charges probably…” were damning. On Friday last hearing, while it passed the buck on the SDMA for not following protocols, it petitioned the Court to ‘restrict the media from reporting on oral observations,’ as it was disappointed “these reports have tarnished the image of the ECI as an independent constitutional agency that is entrusted with the constitutional responsibility of conducting elections.” Reason enough for press freedom institutions to cry foul?
Uttarakhand Wakes Up
If only common sense had prevailed, Uttarakhand government may have spared itself as well as Prime Minister Modi the mocking tweets for holding the Maha Kumbh mela. Perhaps, realising his folly finally, Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat government seeks to make amends. On Thursday last, he announced the ‘Char Dham Yatra’ stands suspended, saying “Conducting the yatra amid the raging pandemic is not possible. Only priests of the four temples at Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Gangotri will perform rituals and puja.” But the seriousness must be questioned. For, he did not stop the last shahi snan at the Kumbh mela despite numbers going up and allowed 1,350-odd seers from various akharas and 25,000 devotees to bathe in Brahmkund at Har Ki Pauri on Tuesday. And trust the district administration to announce a ‘corona curfew’ from April 28 to May 3 morning, only when the mega event is over. Figures on Wednesday last show the State recorded the highest single-day spike of 6,054 Covid-19 cases, taking the cumulative tally to 1,68,616, while 108 deaths pushed the toll to 2,417. Make note of Rawat’s reply to a question on the spike in death rate: “We are surrounded by Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and UP from where critical patients often travel to Uttarakhand for treatment. As such, it becomes difficult for us to save them…” Some people it is said will never learn!
The Powerful Politician
Kudos to Karnataka High Court. It has confirmed what the political class would term as mere hearsay. While turning down a bail plea of astrologer Yuvaraj Swami, accused in cases of cheating politicians, businessmen and even a former HC judge, the court noted that though he has stated in his voluntary statement he has paid amounts to politicians and other persons and assured jobs, “the petitioner seems to be a middleman and highly influential person having contact with ministers, otherwise it is not possible to promise or assure providing or securing jobs like Governor, chairman of boards…” Bengaluru police had arrested Swami in December 2020 for allegedly cheating people of crores of rupees by promising them high positions in government. A former judge had followed with a complaint saying he had paid Swami Rs 8.5 crore through RTGS and cash after “he took her to meet top political leaders to convince her to make payments in 2018-19.” The court reprimanded the judge for attempting to pay a “bribe for securing the post of Governor”, saying he has ‘lowered the prestige of judges and Governor’s post image.’ This apart, Bengaluru magistrate court was pulled up for granting bail to Yuvaraj in the retired judge’s case, plus the State government too for not seeking cancellation of the bail granted by the magistrate. But there’s more to the case. Investigations by Crime Branch have revealed that a former MP was swindled by him of Rs 20 crore by promising renomination to Parliament and a ministerial position! But here the MP has not filed a complaint. Lest it opens a Pandora’s Box. —INFA
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