Can Centre take responsibility to vaccinate entire country, asks SC
The Supreme Court on Monday rapped the central government over its controversial COVID-19 vaccination policy. The apex court questioned the Centre over the digital divide and asked for the rationale behind prioritizing online registrations for vaccinations. It also asked the Centre why states and local civic bodies were being made to procure foreign vaccines, and why the government cannot act as a nodal agency.
A three-judge bench of the SC—comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao, and S Ravindra Bhat—was hearing a suo motu case on COVID-19 issues. The Centre was represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta. The court is also hearing arguments from amici curiae, Jaideep Gupta and Meenakshi Arora. Several state governments have notably filed applications seeking directions to scrap the vaccination policy.
The court asked if it was the Centre's policy to let states compete for procuring vaccines from private manufacturers. When the Centre argued that these are policy issues and the court has limited judicial review power, the bench replied, "You can't just say that you're the Centre and you know what's right. We have a strong arm to come down on this," LiveLaw reported.
The SC said, "We have a spectacle, where different municipal corporations, different states are issuing global tenders. We want to know, is this the policy of the Government of India that every Municipal corporation, every state is left to their own to get vaccines." "Look at the capacity of BMC (Mumbai municipal corporation), it might have a budget comparable with some of our states."
The court asked, "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 Centre also urged the government to explain the rationale behind differential pricing for state governments and the Centre. "Why do the states have to pay a higher price? You have to ensure that vaccines are available at the same price across the nation. You can't have a different price at the Centre and different at the states," the court said.
The bench asked the rationale behind not prioritizing vaccinations in the age group 18-44 years, compared to 45+. It argued that in the second wave of COVID-19, the younger population was also affected. It said, "What is the basis for Centre to say that for 45+, we will provide vaccines free of charge, and for rest, it will be procured at a charge."
Further, the bench questioned making online vaccine registrations via Co-WIN mandatory. "You keep saying digital India, digital India, but you are not aware of the ground realities." "Even in the villages, they have to get registered at a common center. Is that really practical?" it asked, "How do you answer the question about migrant laborers who have to go from one state to another?"