Covid-19 vaccination: Supreme Court raps Centre for ‘dual policy’, calls for more inclusive approach to cater to rural areas

By: |
June 01, 2021 4:00 AM

Expressing concern over state governments having to pay higher prices for the vaccine, the court also said that Centre needs to procure vaccines for the entire country.

The Centre maintained that states weren't left to fend for themselves as the Union government was negotiating the vaccine price that has been fixed for every state.The Centre maintained that states weren't left to fend for themselves as the Union government was negotiating the vaccine price that has been fixed for every state.

Sticking to its critical view of the Centre’s vaccination policy, the Supreme Court on Monday called for more inclusive approach to cater to the rural areas. Questioning the rationale for dual policy of procurement of vaccines, the court wondered why wasn’t the Centre making the products available to the states at the same price.

The apex court asked the Centre as to why several state governments and municipal corporations were issuing global tenders to procure vaccines. It observed the Centre has failed to submit a national policy document on Covid vaccines till date.

“We have some concerns. Is this the policy of the government of India that every municipal corporation, every state is left to their own to get vaccine. Does the government of India contemplate that for the procurement for foreign vaccines, that there will be individual states or corporations submitting bids or are you going to be a nodal agency for the bids?” the court asked.

A Bench comprising justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhatt also asked the Centre to produce its policy document on vaccine procurement and its pricing within two weeks. “We are keen to understand the rationale behind dual pricing,” the apex court said, while asking the government to file its policy document to show what had “weighed” in favour of the new policy and why previous policy was “abandoned”.

During the hearing, the judges also asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on why the Centre had left the pricing of the vaccines to the manufacturers even when law allows the Union government to determine the price itself. However, the judges refrained from entering the realm of policy-making as it would “hamper” initiatives undertaken by the Centre for negotiations with vaccine manufacturers.

So far, the Centre has been supplying vaccine for free for people over 45 years of age, while states have asked to keep their own logistical arrangements to vaccinate the 18-44 age bracket.

“For the population above 45 years, we will supply vaccine, but for under 45 years, states are left to make arrangements. Your rationale for doing this was that the rate of mortality is higher for above 45 years. In the second wave of the pandemic, it’s not merely the above 45 age group that is affected. Those under 45 years are also suffering.”

Pointing out that the population between 18 and 45 are also vulnerable as they tend to go out for work, the judges wanted to understand why the above 45 age group has been prioritised.

Expressing concern over state governments having to pay higher prices for the vaccine, the court also said that Centre needs to procure vaccines for the entire country.

The Centre maintained that states weren’t left to fend for themselves as the Union government was negotiating the vaccine price that has been fixed for every state.

Mehta assured the Bench that the country is on course to vaccinate its entire adult population by the year-end, and the states are mostly inoculating the age group between 18 and 45. He also contended that the three domestic manufacturers – Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories – should be able to manufacture all the jabs that are necessary.

The SG argued that the government is in talks with foreign vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer and others, and may be able to vaccinate all eligible Indians even before December if imported vaccines start getting administered in India.

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