Arbitrary and irrational: SC on Centre's COVID-19 vaccination policy
The Supreme Court on Wednesday observed that the central government's COVID-19 vaccination policy is arbitrary and irrational. The court asked the central government to clarify where the Rs. 35,000 crore (set aside in the Union Budget for procuring vaccines) has been spent so far and why these funds cannot be used for offering free vaccines to the entire country. Here are more details.
Court questioned Centre on competitive pricing of vaccines
A Supreme Court bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao, and S Ravindra Bhat was hearing the suo motu case regarding the distribution of essential services during the pandemic. The court questioned the Centre's justification on pricing policy, which the latter said was aimed to enable competitive pricing to incentivize more private manufacturers. The court asked how that argument was maintainable.
SC cast doubts on Centre's justification on competitive pricing
The bench said, "The justification for (the vaccination policy) has been adduced in a bid to spur competition which would attract more private manufacturers that could eventually drive down prices." "The only room for negotiation with the two vaccine manufacturers was on price and quantity, both of which have been pre-fixed by the Central Government," it said, casting serious doubts on the government's justification.
SC questioned Centre over not providing free vaccines to all
The court questioned the Centre's decision to not provide free vaccines to those aged 18-44 is "arbitrary and irrational." It argued, "Even if the States/UTs were to fund the higher-priced vaccines, a burden they were not discharging before the Liberalized Vaccination Policy was introduced and potentially may not have planned in advance for, these funds are expended at the behest of the public exchequer."
'Important to examine rationality of policy against Article 14'
According to LiveLaw, the court observed, "If the Central Government's unique monopolistic buyer position is the only reason for it receiving vaccines at a much lower rate from manufacturers, it is important for us to examine the rationality of the existing Liberalized Vaccination Policy against Article 14 of the Constitution, since it could place severe burdens, particularly on States/UTs suffering from financial distress."
Court asks Centre to file response
The court directed the Centre to file an affidavit in response to its observations. The court asked the Centre to submit all relevant documents and file notings reflecting its opinion on the policy. The Centre was also asked to take a "fresh review" of the policy as the court feels the policy may not spur competitive prices. The next hearing is on June 30.