No stay on Gautam Gambhir’s prosecution: SC
The Supreme Court on Monday shot down a plea by cricketer-turned-politician Gautam Gambhir to stay the criminal prosecution of his foundation for stocking and distributing Covid-19 drugs during the second wave, observing that the common man had to run helter-skelter for these essential drugs.
“We also read the papers. We have our ears to the ground. People were running helter-skelter for oxygen and drugs and then suddenly a trust comes and says we will give you medicines because we have it in plenty. This is not on. We cannot allow this to happen,” the bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and MR Shah told the counsel for the Bharatiya Janata Party MP from East Delhi and his organisation, Gautam Gambhir Foundation.
The bench added: “Individuals cannot distribute essential medicines. What was being distributed was a banned medicine. Everyone cannot start distributing it by procuring it somehow. We have seen how common man suffered. People were compelled to pay high prices.”
The bench told senior counsel Kailash Vasudev, who appeared for Gambhir and his foundation, to approach the Delhi high court with their grievances after making it clear that the case is not at a stage for the top court to intervene.
Vasudev, on his part, argued that Gambhir and his foundation tried to help people during the pandemic but the drug control department decided to prosecute them on the prodding of the high court.
According to Vasudev, the drug control department initially cleared Gambhir’s foundation of any wrongdoing but then reversed its stand and launch a prosecution after the the high court refused to accept the first report. The counsel said that the high court order asking the drug control department to take action against Gambhir and his foundation required to be stayed.
But the bench was not inclined to entertain the petition, saying Gambhir should put his defence before the high court by becoming a party in the case pending there.
At this, Vasudev agreed to go back to the high court but requested for a stay on the prosecution process till the high court decides Gambhir’s plea, but the court turned down this plea, pointing out that the report by the drug control department highlighted several illegalities, which the high court noted in its order too.
“You can pursue your remedies before the high court but we cannot help you. We cannot stay the prosecution. How can we stay the process? If you are in public life, you will have to go through this,” remarked the bench, compelling Vasudev to withdraw the petition.
On July 16, Delhi’s drug controller, through an affidavit, informed the high court that it filed a prosecution complaint before a trial court against Gambhir’s foundation and that the medical dealers or retailers who provided medicines and oxygen devices for camps organised by the foundation were also suspended for 10 days. The complaint stated that the foundation violated the law since it did not have any licence to procure, stock and distribute drugs and oxygen.
Gambhir did not comment on the apex court’s observations.
Apart from Gambhir’s foundation, prosecution was initiated against Aam Aadmi Party MLAs Imran Hussain and Praveen Kumar for the alleged “unauthorised purchase or procurement, stocking and distribution of medicine and medical oxygen”.
Gambhir distributed Fabiflu , an anti-viral medicine, at his office amid the second wave of the pandemic. Hussain and Kumar were allegedly hoarding oxygen devices for special camps.
The report was filed in a public interest litigation seeking directions to lodge an FIR against the politicians for allegedly procuring and distributing large quantities of Covid medicines even as patients were scrambling to source them at the peak of the second wave in the Capital. Another application was filed by advocate Vedansh Anand in the pending petition, raising similar charges against Praveen Kumar and AAP MLA Preeti Tomar.
On May 31, the court accepted the clean chit given to Tomar, though it slammed the drug controller for giving a clean chit to Gambhir. Three days later, the drug control department submitted yet another report stating that Gambhir’s foundation violated provisions of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act as it did not have any licence to procure, stock and distribute drugs and oxygen.
The matter before the Delhi High Court is listed for July 29.