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Covid vaccination: Supreme Court says Centre’s policy irrational, wants to know how budgeted Rs 35,000 crore has been used till now (Read order)

The Supreme Court noted the Centre's stated position in its affidavit dated May 9, 2021 is that every State/UT Government shall provide vaccination free of cost to its population.

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The Supreme Court has said it is prima facie arbitrary and irrational on part of the Centre to allow free vaccination of health workers, frontline workers, and those in the 45+ age group but permit private hospitals to charge those in the 18-45 group.

“The policy of the Centre for conducting free vaccination for groups under the first 2 phases and replacing it with paid vaccination by state/UT and private hospitals for persons in 18-44 years, is prima facie arbitrary, irrational,” said a bench of Justices Dr D.Y. Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat on Wednesday.

The Apex Court said the issue of vaccination is absolutely essential and termed it “singular most important task” for the governments. It referred to the Union Budget 2021-22 which had earmarked Rs 35,000 crore for procuring vaccines and asked Centre to clarify “how these funds have been spent so far and why these funds cannot be utilised for vaccinating all (free of cost) in the 18-44 group”.

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The Supreme Court has directed the Centre to file its affidavit with regard to the data on the percentage of population that has been vaccinated (with one dose and both doses), as against eligible persons in the first three phases of the vaccination drive. This shall include data pertaining to the percentage of rural population as well as the percentage of urban population vaccinated, said the Court.

The Court asked the Central Government to provide complete data and purchase history of all 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; and An outline for how and when the Central Government seeks to vaccinate the remaining population in phases 1, 2 and 3.

The Top Court has also asked for steps being taken to ensure drug availability for mucormycosis. The Court has noted that that the Centre’s stated position in its affidavit dated May 9, 2021 is that every State/UT Government shall provide vaccination free of cost to its population.

“It is important that individual State/UT Governments confirm/deny this position before this Court. Further, if they have decided to vaccinate their population for free then, as a matter of principle, it is important that this policy is annexed to their affidavit, so that the population within their territories can be assured of their right to be vaccinated for free at a State vaccination centre. Hence, we direct each of the State/UT Governments to also file an affidavit within 2 weeks, where they shall clarify their position and put on record their individual policies,” it said.

The Supreme Court gave these directions in a suo motu plea IN RE: DISTRIBUTION OF ESSENTIAL SUPPLIES AND SERVICES DURING PANDEMIC with regard to the following issues: vaccination policy, supply of essential drugs, supply of medical oxygen, medical infrastructure, augmentation of healthcare workforce and the issues faced by them, and issues of freedom of speech and expression during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Read the order below:

11001_2021_35_301_28040_Judgement_31-May-2021

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