Over two hours of heated hearing in the Supreme Court on Monday did not yield a uniform price for vaccines.
The Supreme Court gave a tongue lashing to the Centre on its Covid vaccination policy, flagging "various flaws" in the drive, which it faulted for different streams of pricing, shortage of doses and lack of access in rural areas, and gave it two weeks to respond.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta's bid to pacify the judges with the assurance that the government expects to vaccinate all Indians by the end of 2021 angered them further. They questioned the government on the erratic vaccine supply to different age groups, firing a barrage of questions on why the Centre didn't procure vaccines for all and thereby ensure a fixed price.
Justice Dhananjaya Chandrachud, who is heading a 3-member Bench, said the Centre should ensure that vaccines are available at the same price across the nation. "Are you willing to state today that the Centre will take the responsibility of ensuring that states will get the vaccines? That will resolve the entire problem," he said.
The Special Bench, which also comprised Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, was meeting after a month to take up the suo motu case on supply of essential medicines, vaccines and medical Oxygen.
It floored the Centre with pointed questions and doubted whether the vaccination drive can really be completed by year-end.
CAN'T CLAIM TO KNOW WHAT IS RIGHT: The Centre told the court in its 218-page affidavit filed on May 9 to keep hands off the Covid policy since it has no "expert advice or administrative experience;" to this the Bench responded on Monday: "You can't just say you are the Centre and you know what is right.''
Responding to the Solicitor General's plea that these are policy issues on which the court has limited power of judicial review, Presiding judge Chandrachud said: "We are not framing policy or changing it either. We are asking you to wake up and see what's happening across the country."
The court faulted the mandatory registration on CoWIN app for getting vaccination, telling policy makers to keep an ear to the ground and acknowledge the digital divide because of which a large section of the population was unable to get inoculated.
VARYING PRICES: Not satisfied with the Centre's affidavit, the Court wanted to know the "actual" basis for the difference in pricing
"Why has the government left it to manufacturers to fix price of vaccines? The Centre has to take ensure one price for the nation," the court stressed, pointing to the Centre's "price-fixing powers."
POLICY FILES SOUGHT: "We want to know, is this the policy that every Municipal corporation, every state is left to its own devices for procurement of vaccine," Justice Chandrachud asked. Justice Bhat chipped in: "Till date we have not seen the policy document which articulates this. We want to see the files. We want to know the rationale."
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