The Manipur High Court has recently closed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a direction to state authorities to carry out door-to-door Covid-19 vaccination on priority basis for the elderly and for persons with disabilities, who are unable to travel to vaccination centres.
The PIL filed by one Ringbam Kamei also sought a direction to the authorities to identify the elderly and the persons with disabilities who require such home-vaccination and to make arrangements therefore.
The Under Secretary, COVID Vaccination Administration Cell, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, filed a counter affidavit detailing the steps taken for providing assistance to differently-abled citizens in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Guidelines were stated to have been issued to all States/Union Territories on 27.05.2021 in this regard. Therefore, these issues were left by the High Court to be addressed by the State authorities.
In turn, the Deputy Secretary, Health & Family Welfare, Government of Manipur, furnished the details of the steps taken to provide Covid-19 vaccinations across the State. He stated that vaccination camps were organized in all the districts but house-to-house vaccination was not carried out owing to lack of human resources and time constraints. As regards vaccination of the aged and of persons with disabilities, he stated that the same would be organized if the Social Welfare Department could identify the households and the beneficiaries who wanted to be vaccinated.
The Deputy Secretary, Social Welfare Department, Government of Manipur, filed a separate affidavit stating that the Director (Health), Manipur, was asked to take up vaccination of persons with disabilities in connection with the organizations working in that field. Thereafter, the Deputy Secretary, Health & Family Welfare, Government of Manipur, filed an additional affidavit stating that persons eligible to take the vaccination were registered through COWIN Portal but there was no specific column therein for registration of persons with disabilities.
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He further stated that this did not mean that they were excluded but the exact number as regards this category could not be ascertained though many of them may have already been vaccinated. He further said that door-to-door vaccination for elderly persons and differently-abled citizens was undertaken from 03.11.2021 to 30.11.2021 through mobile vaccination vans and it was thereafter extended till 31.12.2021. The program is still continuing in different areas within the State.
A Memorandum dated 13.01.2022 was stated to have been issued to all the organizations working in the field of persons with disabilities to submit the list of such persons along with the addresses registered with those organizations, so that vaccinations could be provided to them, if not already provided.
However, by letter dated 17.02.2022, the State Mission Director, National Health Mission, Manipur, informed that no organization in the field of disabilities had submitted details as requested. It appears that a Memorandum dated 11.02.2022 was published in local newspapers on 12.02.2022 calling upon all such NGOs to submit the necessary details but no one had come forward. Another memorandum was issued on 17.02.2022 informing all NGOs working in the field of disabilities to submit the details but to no avail.
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The last affidavit dated 26.03.2022 of the Deputy Secretary, Health & Family Welfare, Government of Manipur, reiterated that despite issuance of the aforestated memoranda, none of the organizations working in the field of disabilities had come forward with data. He pointed out that vaccination was not mandatory and, as such, the authorities could not compel or force every eligible person to get vaccinated. He gave the details of the vaccination drive held by the authorities during January, February, March, May, July, August, 2021 and January & February, 2022.
In the light of the above facts, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice Lanusungkum Jamir observed that the State authorities have done all that is within their ken to reach out to the aged and the differently-abled so that facilities could be provided for their easy vaccination.
“It is distressing to note that the organizations working in the State for the welfare of persons with disabilities did not come forward or respond to the overtures of the State authorities so as to render assistance to those with disabilities,” said the Court.
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However, the High Court held that vaccination cannot be compelled and it is for the beneficiaries to come forward voluntarily.
“As the State authorities have taken adequate measures in this regard, this Court sees no reason to issue any further directions. It is left open to the authorities to continue with the vaccination drives so that willing beneficiaries can be provided with the available immunization against the pandemic”
-the order reads.