A Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat in the suo moto case on COVID-related issues (In Re Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic) observed that the centre’s vaccination policy of providing free vaccines to groups under the first two phases of vaccination but implementing paid vaccination by the States, UTs and private hospitals for those between 18-44 years was arbitrary and irrational.
The apex court further noted that the ‘Liberalized Vaccine Policy’ pursued by the centre offers limited vaccine supply to states, UTs and private hospitals for the vaccination of people in the 18-44 age group. It also pointed out the mandatory digital registration that has to be done through the CoWIN portal and the digital divide that this strategy results in. The court also highlighted the fact that this liberalized vaccine policy doesn’t prioritize those with comorbidities or disabilities.
The centre has been asked to respond to the observations made by the court by filing a fresh affidavit while also providing all relevant documents and file notings that reflect the centre’s thought process on the vaccine policy. The centre has also been directed by the court to conduct a ‘fresh review’ of the vaccination policy. The court also sought to understand how the budgetary allocation of 35,000 crores have been spent for the procurement of vaccines and why the same cannot be used to provide free vaccination for individuals in the 18-44 age category.
"We find that the Liberalized Vaccination Policy may not be able to yield the desired results of spurring competitive prices and higher quantities of vaccines", the Court noted. The case will be next considered on June 30.
The court also clarified that it isn’t breaching the principle of separation of powers but asserted that constitutionally, courts cannot be silent spectators when constitutional rights of citizens are infringed by executive policies. The bench stated that judicial review and soliciting constitutional justification for executive policies is an essential function, which the courts are entrusted to perform.
“In grappling with the second wave of the pandemic, this Court does not intend to second-guess the wisdom of the executive when it chooses between two competing and efficacious policy measures. However, it continues to exercise jurisdiction to determine if the chosen policy measure conforms to the standards of reasonableness, militates against manifest arbitrariness and protects the right to life of all persons", the bench said.