'Govt of India should buy and distribute vaccines, not states': Supreme Court

The Supreme Court expressed serious concerns over the fact that several states were issuing global tenders to procure foreign vaccines for Covid-19 and questioned the Centre's policy for vaccine procurement.

'Govt of India should buy and distribute vaccines, not states': Supreme Court

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has pulled up the Centre over its 'flawed' vaccine policy and stated that the Government should buy and distribute vaccines, not the states. The top court made this observation in response to the facts that several state governments were now issuing global tenders to procure anti-COVID vaccines.

The highest court of the country questioned the Centre’s policy on vaccine procurement and said that till date, the Centre has failed to submit a national policy document on COVID vaccines.

The Supreme Court said that it appears that the Centre’s vaccine policy is to make states and municipal corporations compete with each other to procure vaccines. The Supreme Court also questioned the logistics of picking up and distributing vaccines and why the government is not supplying for the 18+ age group as well.

The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud made these strong observations while hearing a suo motu case related to the supply of essential medicines, vaccines and medical oxygen to coronavirus patients.

The matter was adjourned on Monday as the court gave 2 weeks' time to the Centre to file an affidavit with its response to the questions raised in the hearing regarding the country's vaccine policy.

Several states are issuing global tenders to procure foreign vaccines for Covid-19 and is this policy of the central government," the Supreme Court bench asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

The top court also highlighted the digital divide between rural and urban India and posed some tough 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 special bench advised the government to be flexible with its policies to deal with the dynamic pandemic situation.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the central government, also referred to the one-to-one talks undertaken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with heads of various nations to effectively deal with the situation and urged the bench not to pass any order which may impede the ongoing diplomatic and political efforts to get the vaccines.

Mehta also informed the top court about the normalising pandemic situation and said the entire eligible population (above 18 years of age) would be vaccinated by the end of 2021 and if ongoing talks with companies like Pfizer succeed then the timeline for completing the vaccination may get advanced.

Justice Chandrachud, who himself is recovering from coronavirus infection, questioned the vaccine procurement policy and raised the issue of digital divide questioning the policy of mandatory registration on CoWin App for jabs.

“You keep on saying the situation is dynamic but policymakers must have their ears on the ground. You keep on saying 'digital India, digital India' but the situation is actually different in rural areas. How will an illiterate labourer from Jharkhand get registered in Rajasthan? Tell us how you will address this digital divide,” the bench asked.

“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,” it said.

Mehta replied that registration is mandatory as a person needs to be traced for a second dose and as far as rural areas are concerned, there are community centres where a person can get registered for vaccination. The bench asked the Centre to place the policy document before it on record.

(With Agency inputs)

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