The supreme Court during the hearing of suo motu case related to supply of essential medicines, vaccines and medical oxygen to COVID patient posed the hard hitting questions to the centre on Covid – 19 vaccine procurement policy and need for mandatory registration on the CoWIN app for people to get vaccinated without keeping in mind the real ‘digital India’ situation
A special bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L N Rao and S Ravindrabhat said that since the Centre has made CoWIN registration mandatory for vaccination, how is it going to address the issue of digital situation in the rural India .
The Supreme Court asked the Centre that several state governments are now issuing global tenders to procure vaccines, is this the central policy on vaccine procurement. The court also observed that till date, the Centre has failed to submit a national policy document on Covid vaccines.
The Supreme Court also questioned the logistics of picking up and distributing vaccines
The Centre had earlier said that the entire eligible population of India would be vaccinated by the end of 2021. Mehta informed the Supreme Court that the Centre is in talks with Pfizer and others and if it succeeds, then the timeline for completing the vaccination would be faster.
The Supreme Court asked “Are you asking the state to pick up and compete with each other?”
However, the Supreme Court cited the case of Maharashtra and said, “We are seeing a spectacle now where municipal corporations and states are issuing global tenders. Is it a government policy that each municipal corporation and state will be left to their own devices and procure global tenders?”
“Compare the budget of the Mumbai municipal corporation with that of some city municipal corporation in a UP or Bihar or any other state. The BMC budget is more than that of some of the states. Are you allowing as a policy for the municipal corporations to open tenders,” asked the Supreme Court.
The top court also questioned the Centre on states being “left in the lurch” on vaccine procurement. Many states have issued global tenders for the vaccines to which the court said that the Centre needs to procure it for the entire country.
“We have different states, issuing global tenders — Punjab has done it, Delhi also tried. Will every state’s municipal corporation be left to its own devices to procure vaccines? The BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) might be able to procure as it has a budget bigger than many states and smaller states will struggle. Does the Centre view itself as responsible for procuring vaccines for every country or will states be left to themselves? Article 1(1) says that the country is a union of states. If we are a union of states, then the government of India needs to procure vaccines for the entire country.” the court said.
Already Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal ordered the closure of vaccination centres for the 18 to 44 years age group earlier this month, due to lack of doses.
The Supreme Court further questioned the rationale behind not supplying vaccines for the population below 45 years. “Our question is what is the rationale. For the population above 45 years, we will supply vaccine, but for under 45 years, states are left to make arrangements,” observed the court.
It further added, “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.”
You must know the ground situation and change the policy accordingly. If we had to do it, we would have done it 15-20 days back.”
The top court said that there cannot be differential pricing of vaccine for the Centre and states. “The Central government has wide powers to fix rates under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act? Why to leave it to the vaccine manufacturers to fix different pricing?” the court said.
Earlier, the Supreme court had constituted a 12-member National Task Force to formulate a methodology for the scientific allocation of Oxygen to states and UTs for saving lives of COVID patients and to facilitate a public health response to the pandemic.