Monday, December 4, 2023

Manipur High Court closes PIL against state govt order mandating Covid-19 vaccine for citizens

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The Manipur High Court has closed a PIL, assailing the Notification dated June 30, 2021 issued by the Home Department, Government of Manipur, mandating Covid-19 vaccination for the citizens of the state.

By the said notification, the Government stated that it would be relaxing curfew/containment zone orders in future in a calibrated manner by assessing the Covid-19 infection scenario and while opening up, it was considered prudent to prioritise the opening of institutions, organisations, factories, shops, markets and private offices, wherein employees and workers were Covid vaccinated. It was further stated that this would apply to NREGA Job Card Holders and workers in Government and private projects.

The grievance of petitioner Osbert Khaling was that the state could not compel the citizens to take vaccination by resorting to such intimidatory measures.

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By order dated July 13, 2021, the Court observed that the state could not seek to impose conditions upon citizens so as to compel them to get vaccinated, be it by holding out a threat or by putting them at a disadvantage for failing to get vaccinated.

It was further observed that restraining people who are yet to get vaccinated from opening institutions, organizations, factories, shops, etc., or denying them their livelihood, would be illegal on the part of the state, if not unconstitutional, as such a measure would trample upon the freedom of the individual to get vaccinated or choose not to do so.

However, as the stand put forth by the Additional Advocate General, Manipur, was that the notification merely expressed the intention of the Government as to what it proposed to do once relaxation of curfew/containment zone orders was resorted to, and that it would not be acted upon till such event, the said stand was taken on record and by way of abundant caution, it was made clear that the impugned notification would not be given effect to even if the State resorted to any further relaxation. This interim order was augmented by another interim order passed on August 23, 2021 in relation to the measure of the state to compel vaccination of Fair Price Shop (FPS) agents.

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While so, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice M.V. Muralidaran noted on March 2 that day-time curfew has been lifted altogether and containment zones are also not being maintained in the light of decrease in Covid-19 cases across the state. The impugned notification is therefore of no import at present and the challenge thereto is rendered purely academic.

The  Court is not inclined to adjudicate in a vacuum. In consequence, the issues raised in the PIL as to the extent to which the State can go to ‘persuade’ citizens to get vaccinated is left open for consideration in an appropriate case, if and when it arises, observed the Court.

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