Supreme Court asks India Government for vaccine purchase data. ‘Mix of free and paid system arbitrary, irrational,’ it says

June 03, 2021 03:05 AM

Supreme Court asks India Government for vaccine purchase data. ‘Mix of free and paid system arbitrary, irrational,’ it says

NEW DELHI - The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to place on record all relevant documents and file notings reflecting its thinking that culminated in the Covid-19 vaccination policy and the purchase history till date of all vaccines, including Covaxin, Covishield and Sputnik V.

A special bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, L N Rao and S Ravindra Bhat said, “While filing its affidavit, UoI shall also ensure that copies of all the relevant documents and file notings reflecting its thinking and culminating in the vaccination policy are also annexed on the vaccination policy.”

"Hence, we direct the UoI to file its affidavit within 2 weeks,” the bench said in its May 31 order uploaded on Wednesday on its website.

The bench asked the Centre to ensure that each issue dealt with by it in the order is responded to individually.

The court noted that the Centre's policy of giving free vaccination to the 45-plus age group and having a paid system for those below, was "prima facie arbitrary and irrational".

Mentioning several other issues, the court asked the Centre to review its vaccination policy and "place on record a roadmap of projected availability of vaccines till 31 December 2021".

The bench asked for the “complete data on the Central Government's purchase history of all the Covid-19 vaccines till date (Covaxin, Covishield and Sputnik V). The data should clarify: (a) the dates of all procurement orders placed by the Central Government for all 3 vaccines; (b) the quantity of vaccines ordered as on each date; and (c) the projected date of supply.”

On May 31, the top court had highlighted the digital divide between rural and urban India and posed searching queries to the Centre on mandatory registration on CoWIN for Covid jabs, vaccine procurement policy and differential pricing, saying the policymakers must have ears on the ground to effectively deal with the unprecedented crisis.

Asking the Centre to "smell the coffee" and ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are available at the same price across the nation, the top court had advised the government to be flexible with its policies to deal with the dynamic pandemic situation

The top court's order came in suo motu case on Covid-19 management.

The top court also highlighted the pricing issue of vaccines, asking the Centre to submit a comparison of the prices of vaccines available in India to their international prices, reported

Calling the issue of vaccination "absolutely crucial", the court said currently people in the 18-44-year age group are not just getting infected, but suffering from severe effects of the infection, "including prolonged hospitalization and, in unfortunate cases, death".

The "changing nature of the pandemic" has created a situation where this younger age bracket also needs to be vaccinated, "although priority may be retained between different age groups on a scientific basis," the bench said.

"Hence, due to the importance of vaccinating individuals in the 18-44 age group, the policy of the Central Government for conducting free vaccination themselves for groups under the first 2 phases, and replacing it with paid vaccination by the State/UT Governments and private hospitals for the persons between 18-44 years is, prima facie, arbitrary and irrational," the order read.

The government has said it will vaccinate the eligible population by December this year, the announcement met with much scepticism by the Opposition.

Under the "liberalised" vaccine policy that came into effect May 1, the Centre is paying for vaccines of people above the age of 45. For those below, the states can buy up to 50 per cent of their vaccine requirements from manufacturers but they are paying a much higher price than the Centre. Private hospitals are paying even more.

The court will take up the case again on June 30.

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