The Supreme Court on Monday questioned the Central government on its dual policy for procurement of Covid-19 vaccines and said that there needs to be one price for the vaccines across the nation.
The Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat called for a uniform pricing policy to be adopted for COVID vaccines across the nation.
“Centre says it gets vaccines at low pricing since it buys in bulk, if this is the rationale then why do states have the higher price? There needs to be one price for the vaccines across the nation. Pandemic has evolved in last two months,” the Court said.
“In this case, if the purpose is to procure vaccines then why should the centre confine itself to only post 45 age people and leave pre 45 age entirely to state for arranging logistics. How do we look at the marginalised and economically weaker ones?” asked the Apex Court.The bench said that since the Centre has made CoWIN registration mandatory for vaccination, how is it going to address the issue of digital divide facing the country.
It said, “You must smell the coffee and see what is happening across the country. 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 Supreme Court said that for post 45, supplying vaccines to states is from the Centre. But for pre 45 states has to make their own arrangements, how do you justify this, it asked.
The SC also asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Centre about mandatory registration for vaccine by 18+ on CoWIN app.
“If a villager doesn’t have mobile then he can go to a centre and get registered,” Solicitor General told the Bench.
“How are you answering the digital divide? How are you ensuring that the migrant workers are able to get vaccinated?” the SC asked Tushar Mehta
Responding to the Supreme Court, Tushar Mehta said, “Regarding providing modes other than digital, CoWIN digital portal allows the registration of 4 persons and the gram panchayats have centres to have the infrastructure for the internet. People who don’t have access to the internet can also take help from friends and relatives. Online registration decision has been taken since vaccines are not unlimited and if walk-in is allowed then there will be crowding but now walk-in is allowed subject to the availability of vaccine.”
Justice DY Chandrachud said that there is no digital literacy even today in rural areas. “I am the chairperson of the e-committee and we see how it is,” he said.
To this, Tushar Mehta said, “It is flexible now and we have now permitted workplace vaccination. Individual house to house vaccination was not possible but we are doing it through RWA and with ambulance present.”
Amicus Curiae Jaideep Gupta, assisting the court in the case, said there is no change in policy. Walk-in was always there for 45 plus, for 18 plus CoWIN registration is mandatory.
Justice Bhat said he is getting distress calls from all over the country like Kochi, Bangalore etc. that within two minutes all slots are booked.
Justice L Nageswara Rao said that the ground reality is very clear. 75 per cent vaccination is in urban areas and this concern needs to be addressed.
The Supreme Court said that right now the policy is such that it is completely exclusionary of the rural areas.
“In absence of guidelines, there will be ad hoc decisions. Let the policy be amended. You have to have a policy which takes care of new issues so that states are guided.
“If we agree to something wrong, then it is not a sign of weakness but strength. The purpose of the hearing has been dialogical, we are not going to lay down policy and engage stakeholders in dialogue. We want to make sure that the arms of the nation are strengthened. The fact that the Minister of External Affairs travelled to the USA and spoke to stakeholders shows how serious you are,” said Justice Chandrachud.
To this the Solicitor General said that the Prime Minister before this had spoken to all the heads of the nation.
During the hearing, Justice Chandrachud said that yesterday he saw a news report that showed that dead bodies were being thrown in the river.
“I don’t know whether a complaint of sedition has been filed against the news channel for publishing the photograph…,” Justice Chandrachud said.
The Bench hearing the suo moto proceedings initiated by it on issues related to oxygen supply, drug supply, and vaccine policy in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, said that it will pass a short order today itself.