The Delhi High Court on Wednesday told the Centre that the Judiciary is one of the three wings of Government and an important wing of the State. Justice Vipin Sanghi said the Centre cannot say that it cannot consider the judiciary with other places while replying to the submission by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that the Government had set the priority for Covid-19 vaccination upon certain fundamental facts.
SG Mehta had submitted that only those who are 60-plus or persons with co-morbidities have been considered for the first phase of vaccination. They have not even considered railway workers, Airport Workers, like traders etc. They are also working in crowded places. Even doctors, who are health workers. They are not even considered for vaccination drive. Only those who are directly associated with Covid patients are considered. “Let the first priority be the vulnerable section. Age wise and co-morbidity wise,” he said.
Hearing the suo motu plea initiated by itself on the need for Covid-19 vaccination for Judges, Court Staff and Lawyers, Justice Sanghi said, “Judiciary is one of the three wings of the Government. You cannot say you cannot consider this with other places. It is the important wing of the State. It’s a pillar of the State. Nobody can deny the fact that cases are on increasing. Backlog of cases is on increase…Undertrials are languishing in jails..we are going to feel the impact of this for years to come…Court are places of congregation.. Hundreds or thousands of people are coming to Courts everyday. Judges, lawyers and staff are all the same. Risk of exposure is increasing.”
Mehta submitted, “Your Lordship, we are not saying that the role of judiciary or lawyers is less important. Out of three wings, even the Executive is not entitled in these guidelines. I am also member of the Bar, I am not opposing or against the Bar.” He goes on to state that rather than going by nature of work to begin with is difficult. Age and co-morbidity are the two sections we dealt with in our affidavit, he said.
Senior Advocate Ramesh Gupta submitted that in Para 13 of the Centre’s affidavit they have classified police, armed forces, home guards etc in frontline workers but not lawyers.
SG Mehta interjected and said Mr. Gupta don’t make it a adversarial litigation. Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said the Centre has made it a adversarial litigation. “You (SG) have also opposed physical hearing before the Supreme Court of India,” he said.
SG Mehta said, “I am not into Bar politics.”
Justice Sanghi cautioned, “Kindly maintain the decorum of Court. We are not doubting that you (Centre) have put a application of mind in your affidavit. But we have to see whether are you using the full potentials. On the last date, Serum Institute of India has said they have full capacity, which is not utilized.”
The Counsel appearing for Serum Institute has said they have filed their affidavit.
SG Tushar Mehta submitted, “Let my lordship have this affidavit and adjourn the hearing as the transfer petition is pending before the Supreme Court which is hearing the similar matter.
The bench, which also comprised Justice Rekha Palli, said, “We are not passing the final order today. We want to keep this progress going on. Even if it is transferred to Supreme Court, the Supreme Court may benefit with it.”
The court has put the query to the Serum Institute to apprise it with their position today.
Solicitor General Mehta once again emphasized and submitted that in his affidavit he has explained everything.
He said, “Let’s take a hypothetical example. Suppose 1 crore vaccines are made to be administrated to those vulnerable group. We should need an infrastructure facility for that, then there is a need of manpower, paramedical staff etc. Whenever a person is administered vaccines, the global protocol require that he may need to sit for half an hour. It is not that you go and take vaccine and come out. There are several international treaties we have signed. We have given details in our affidavit. You need a manpower, etc for administering the vaccine. All these factors shall be taken into the consideration. So it is not we are advertising the vaccine. It is the top most priority of the Central Government.”
The Court said, “We have seen that full potential is not utilized.” The Counsel appearing for Serum Institute submitted that 60 million doses prepared in one month. Currently we have utilized all the capacity.
Senior Advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing for Bharat Biotech, said, “We don’t have any excess vaccination which has been utilized. The whole process takes a time.”
The Court has considered the submissions made by Advocate Rahul Mehra. He has submitted that they have to requisite infrastructure in courts or place near the Court for administering the vaccination. He said, “We have carried inspection with the District Judges. We have the infrastructure so that we can provide 100s doses per day. If the vaccination is Available to the State Authority. We have also identified all the premises for the vaccination. We have identified those vaccination Centre which are attached to the Court premises.” He requested the court to pass orders for the lawyers fraternity for vaccination.
The Court has directed to place the affidavits filed by the respondents on record and adjourned the hearing till March 19, in view of the pending transfer petition before the Supreme Court of India filed by Bharat Biotech.
In its affidavit, the Central government filed before the Delhi High Court specifically stated that the first phase for Covid-19 vaccination is for “Front Line Workers” who are directly exposed to the COVID infected patients. “It may not be desirable to create a separate class consisting of lawyers and others below 45 years of age and discriminating other similarly situated citizens engaged in other trade, profession or business and working under similar geographic conditions and circumstances as such a classification would necessarily lead to discrimination as there are several other trades, business or professions who directly deal with the health, help and assist a common-man to provide his day-to-day requirements and are working in a small space with a large number,” the Centre said in its affidavit.
The Center further informed the Court that the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19, which has been established by the Government of India to provide guidance in all aspects of COVID-19 vaccination has considered the requests made in the petition filed by Senior Advocate Pradeep Rai regarding the inclusion of lawyers as front line workers for priority vaccination, in continuation to which the NEGVAC have recommended to obtain information regarding the total number of lawyers in the country and the number of lawyers who have attained the age of 60 or 45 to 59 with specific co-morbidities.