The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed the Maharashtra government to investigate how celebrities and politicians procured anti-COVID-19 drugs and injections to help those in need when the same were available only in scarce quantities across the country.
A vacation bench of Justices Amjad Sayyad and GS Kulkarni said such celebrities might have had the noble intention of helping others, but only the Union government was authorised to allocate those drugs.
These people (celebrities) might not realise that they are acting in defiance of the legal set up, it noted. Therefore, an inquiry must be conducted to rule out issues such as illegal procurement, hoarding, black-marketing and providing spurious drugs.
The court's order came after Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, who appeared for the Maharashtra government, submitted that the state had issued show cause notices to Mumbai Congress MLA Zeeshan Siddique, actor Sonu Sood's charity foundation, and some others over the matter.
Mr Kumbhakoni said Mr Siddique and Mr Sood had sent their replies saying they neither purchased nor stocked the medicines and injections.
"They said they had only acted as facilitators in some cases after paying the cost of the medicines, and in some cases without paying for them. They said that they got in touch with manufacturers," Mr Kumbhakoni told the HC.
He said notices had also been issued to Cipla and other manufacturers for allegedly having supplied Remdesivir drug to celebrities.
The HC, however, asked how was it possible that celebrities got in touch with manufacturers to get the medicines when the drugs were to be allotted only through the central government.
"Can your authorities accept this reply? Is this believable?" the HC asked.
Mr Kumbhakoni then said the state's inquiry into the matter was still going on.
"We will take the probe to its logical end," he said.
The Union government's counsel, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, told the bench that the Centre has already questioned the manufacturers of Remdesivir and other anti-COVID-19 drugs and they had denied having supplied them to any politician or celebrity.
The court noted that the Sood Charity Foundation said in its reply that it had contacted Cipla and other manufacturers.
"Let the state take note of your (UOI) affidavit and carry on with its probe. If celebrities say they got it from manufacturers, but manufacturers deny, then this needs to be investigated," the HC said.
The court said the celebrities and politicians in question might have had good intentions, but they could not help citizens while defying a legal set up.
"These people (celebrities) might not realise that they are acting in defiance of the entire set up, the legal system," the HC said.
The court was hearing a bunch of public interest litigations (PILs), seeking proper management of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including streamlining the allocation of drugs and injections.
Advocate Rajesh Inamdar, counsel for one of the pleas, told the HC that several such celebrities were even providing drugs for mucormycosis, or black fungus, a serious infection found in several COVID-19 patients.
The HC, however, said all of these issues were for the state to look into.
"They are not before us as parties so we can't pass any orders against them. But it is the state government's responsibility to caution them, to take undertakings from
them," the HC said.
"Let the state inquire into all this. All those who want to help, let them help through legal channels," it said. The HC will continue hearing in the matter next week.