SC’s Tough Questions to Be Credited for Govt’s New Vaccine Policy?
Here are some highlights of Supreme Court’s observations during the suo motu cognizance case over the COVID crisis.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an address, on Monday, 7 June, announced centralisation of the COVID-19 vaccine drive and said that all vaccines will be procured by the Centre and given to the states for free. He said that all above 18 years of age will be vaccinated for free by the Centre beginning 21 June.
While PM Modi in his speech claimed that allowing states to procure vaccines was a move suggested by several states themselves, he also suggested that the same states then asked for centralisation of the vaccination drive after they failed to procure them.
However, several pointed out that the said “u-turn” comes days after the Centre was lambasted by the Supreme Court over the “various flaws” in its inoculation drive and the Centre being pulled up for letting the states procure vaccines and leaving them “in the lurch.”
The court had also questioned the Centre’s rationale behind the vaccines not being given for free.
While some political leaders - including Union Ministers and BJP MPs have thanked the government for the new policy, others found it more appropriate to credit the apex court’s raps to the Centre that led to the change in the vaccine policy.
Here are some of the key highlights from the Supreme Court’s observations, made on during its suo motu hearing on the COVID-19 crisis:
- 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.
- We are not changing the policy. We are asking you to please wake up and smell the coffee and see what's happening across the country.
- There is a vital issue. Article 1 of the Constitution says that India, that is Bharat is a, Union of States. When the Constitution says that, then we follow the federal rule. Then Government of India has to procure the vaccines and distribute it. Individual states cannot be left in the lurch.
- It is likely that compelling the state governments to negotiate with (vaccine) manufacturers on the grounds of promoting competition and making it attractive for new vaccine manufacturers, will result in a serious detriment to those in the age group of 18 to 44 years, who will be vaccinated by the state governments.
- Can we say that 50 percent of the population between 18 to 45 will be able to afford the vaccines? Not at all. How do we look at the marginalised and those who can’t provide for themselves? These are areas we have to look at critically.
- Prima facie, the rational method of proceeding in a manner consistent with the right to life (which includes the right to health) under Article 21 would be for the Central government to procure all vaccines and to negotiate the price with vaccine manufacturers. Once quantities are allocated by it to each state government, the latter would lift the allocated quantities and carry out the distribution.
- The Supreme Court also pointed out that forcing the state governments to purchase vaccines at a commercial rate would pose a threat of excluding socio-economic minorities from the vaccination drive.
- The central government’s policy is “prima facie detrimental to the right to health”, and the government shall think about revising it to withstand constitutional scrutiny.
- "While we are not passing a conclusive determination on the constitutionality of the current policy, the manner in which the current policy has been framed, would prima facie result in a detriment to the right to public health, which is an integral element of Article 21 of the Constitution.”
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