The bench said, “What led the thinking in the government for dual pricing of vaccines? What is the rationale behind the Centre procuring the vaccines at a price while that for states is higher, and even more for private hospitals?”
Till date, haven’t seen vax policy: SC
Till date, we have not seen the vaccination policy document… Why has the government left it to the manufacturers to fix vaccine prices? Why are the states and even municipal corporations floating global tenders for procuring vaccines? Will it not lead to a skewed supply of vaccines to citizens based on which state they resided in?” the bench asked.
These were among a host of questions that inundated the SG during the two-hour hearing before the bench which asked the Centre to file an affidavit within two weeks. The SG said vaccination for all will be free as the states have given a written commitment to this effect to the Centre. Justice Bhat said, “Whatever be the affidavit, apart from justifying the policy decisions, the Centre must place before the court the policy document and the thinking behind it, including relevant file notings. Why did you abandon the 1978 policy decision for universal immunisation free of cost? The only issue staring at us at this point of time is vaccination.”
Justice Chandrachud said Article 1 of the Constitution says India is a Union of States. “When the Constitution so mandates, at a time of national crisis, the government of India should procure the vaccine and distribute them among the states rather than asking the states to fend for themselves. This could leave citizens residing in poor states in the lurch,” he said.
The court appeared unconvinced as to why the 45+ population would get free vaccination through the Centre and why the states have to purchase the vaccines at a higher cost for the population in the 18-45 age group. Justice Chandrachud said, “In the 18-45 age group there are approximately 60 crore people. Of the vaccines meant for this group, 50% is going to private hospitals. Will 50% of the population in the 18-45 age group be able to afford the charges at private hospitals? Not at all.”
The bench raised the issue of difficulties faced by many in registering for a vaccination slot through CoWin. The SG said the government is alive to the dynamics of the situation and has tweaked many policy decisions to address difficulties faced by people and has started allowing on-the-spot registration at vaccination centres.
The SG said the mandatory registration is based on the rationale that the person taking the first dose of vaccine should be taking the second dose also and this requires details to be logged. “If the second dose is not taken, even the first dose goes to waste,” he said. Justice Rao asked the Centre to give statistical data about urban-rural ratio in vaccinations carried out so far. The SG said the government is alive to the situation and “not oblivious to the ground situation”.
Justice Chandrachud said, “Is it possible for a migrant worker from a rural area to register through CoWin? You shout a lot about digital India. But are you aware of the sharp digital divide in rural areas? The policymakers must have ears to ground and tweak the policy accordingly to try address problems faced by all citizens. Please smell the coffee and make amendments to policy decisions.”
“Whatever decisions taken by the executive could be replaced by the SC’s wisdom.” He assured the court that changes would be carried out in the policy and that government would answer all queries to satisfaction of SC.