The Delhi High Court on Wednesday emphasized the need for the government to fix the maximum retail price (MRP) payable for oxygen concentrators and other equipment used to treat COVID-19. The court made this statement following cases lodged for black marketing and hoarding of COVID-19 related drugs and equipment.
“It is high time that MRP for oxygen concentrators and all other equipment for the treatment of COVID-19, for which there is much demand, is fixed so malpractices are immediately stemmed,” the Court’s order stated.
The Bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli also noted that as early as June 2020, there was a call to fix prices on imported or domestic equipment, but the process was left incomplete. As such, the Bench passed its order in view of submissions made by advocate Sanjeev Sagar on how certain lower costs and public prosecutors appearing before such courts were unaware of the High Court’s orders already passed on such issues. Sagar referred to media reports concerning court proceedings in a case where the Delhi Police seized oxygen concentrators. “If this way the public prosecutor argues before lower court, everybody will go scot-free,” he argued.
Justice Sanghi said the Centre has already directed the State to ensure that Public Prosecutors are made aware of the High Court’s orders. Amicus curiae Rajshekhar Rao pointed out that there appeared to be certain gaps in the law that could be exploited by persons hoarding such equipment. He pointed out that trial courts may be unable to enforce orders passed by the High Court, although the High Court may exercise contempt jurisdiction to punish violators. Another issue brought to the fore was whether such offences should be persecuted by the police or Drug Department authorities.
He also highlighted that in the absence of a fixed price by the government, people can claim that they are importing the equipment legally and that there is no black marketing involved. Rao said that people will escape prosecution in the long run because of these gaps.
The High Court agreed that failure of the State to fix a price on such equipment may be taken advantage of to sell the same at extorbitant and unconscionable rates. The Court also directed advocate Sagar to prepare a note that can be communicated to all Public Prosecutors to ensure that they are aware of the High Court’s orders on the issue.