New Delhi, Jun 2 (ILNS) The Supreme Court today said prima facie, it is ‘arbitrary’ and ‘irrational’ on part of the Centre’s policy to allow free vaccination of health workers, frontline workers and those in 45+ age group, but permitted private hospitals to charge those in the 18-45 age group.
“The policy of the Central Government for conducting free vaccination themselves for groups under first 2 phases and replacing it with paid vaccination by state/UT governments and private hospitals for persons between 18-44 years is, prima facie, arbitrary and irrational,” said a three-Judge Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat.
The Supreme Court said that the issue of vaccination is absolutely essential and termed it as “singular most important task” for the governments. It referred to the Union Budget for 2021-22, which earmarked Rs 35,000 crore for procuring vaccines. It asked the Centre to clarify “how these funds have been spent so far and why these funds cannot be utilised for vaccinating all (free of cost) in the 18-44 group.”
The apex court has directed the Centre to file its affidavit with regard to the data on the percentage of population that has been vaccinated (with one dose and both doses), as against eligible persons in the first three phases of the vaccination drive. This shall include data pertaining to the percentage of rural population as well as the percentage of urban population so vaccinated, said the Court.
The Bench directed to provide complete data on the Central Government’s purchase history of all the COVID-19 vaccines till date (Covaxin, Covishield and Sputnik V).
The data should clarify: (a) the dates of all procurement orders placed by the Central Government for all 3 vaccines; (b) the quantity of vaccines ordered as on each date; and (c) the projected date of supply; and An outline for how and when the Central Government seeks to vaccinate the remaining population in phases 1, 2 and 3.”
The top court further asked for the steps being taken by the Central Government to ensure drug availability for Mucormycosis.
The Court noted that the Union of India’s stated position in its affidavit dated May 9, 2021 is that every State/UT Government shall provide vaccination free of cost to its population.
“It is important that individual State/UT Governments confirm/deny this position before this Court. Further, if they have decided to vaccinate their population for free then, as a matter of principle, it is important that this policy is annexed to their affidavit, so that the population within their territories can be assured of their right to be vaccinated for free at a State vaccination centre,” the Bench said.
“Hence, we direct each of the State/UT Governments to also file an affidavit within two weeks, where they shall clarify their position and put on record their individual policies,” it added.
The Court gave its directions in a Suo Motu plea initiated by it titled as ‘IN RE: Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services during Pandemic’ with regard to the following issues: vaccination policy, supply of essential drugs, supply of medical oxygen, medical infrastructure, augmentation of healthcare workforce and the issues faced by them, and issues of freedom of speech and expression during the COVID-19 pandemic. ILNS/KR/RJ