Little room for judicial interference: Centre to Supreme Court on COVID-19 vaccination policy
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New Delhi: Monday’s morning's all-important virtual hearing on Centre’s vaccination policy lasted barely two minutes as the judges went off air due to a technical glitch.

During the key hearing, the Centre was expected to explain why a single price should not be fixed for the Covid vaccines and why should it not take responsibility of their distribution.

To add to the court’s discomfort, an affidavit filed by the Centre late Sunday night stating its response on the vaccine policy was leaked to a national newspaper and was a talking point among journalists on Monday morning even before the judges could get to see it.

Justice Chandrachud was the only one who got the government's 88-page affidavit on Sunday night while it reached the two other judges on the Bench only at 10 AM on Monday, an hour before the court assembled. But a few minutes later the judges - Justices DY Chandrachud, LN Rao and S Ravindra Bhat - said the server was down and they were adjourning the hearing to Thursday, so that the affidavit filed by the Centre late Sunday night could be analysed.

The affidavit, media sources said, has defended the dual vaccine pricing policy, with the Centre insisting that overzealous judicial interference, though well-meaning, may lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences.

"In the context of a global pandemic, where response and strategy of the nation is completely driven by expert medical and scientific opinion, there is little room for judicial interference. Any overzealous, though well-meaning, judicial intervention may lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences...’’, the Centre has said.

Justifying the differential pricing, the Centre has told the Supreme Court that there should be no fuss over it since all state governments have already declared their policy decision to vaccinate free of cost.

Moreover, the Centre has said the prices of vaccines are "uniform" for all the states.

"Those who choose to be vaccinated and can afford to pay the price, can go to private hospitals," the affidavit said, noting that it would reduce the operational cost of the government vaccination facilities.

Explaining the differential pricing for procurement by the Centre and the state governments, the Centre said: "It is based on the concept of creating an incentivized demand for the private vaccine manufacturer to instil a competitive market, resulting in increased production of vaccines and market driven affordable prices for the same." It will also attract offshore vaccine manufacturers to enter the country, resulting in an increased availability of vaccines, the affidavit said.

While the Centre continues to spend only Rs 150 per dose for either Serum Institute's Covishield or Bharat Biotech's Covaxin, states must pay Rs 400 per dose for Covaxin and private hospitals Rs 1200. Covishield costs Rs 300 per dose for states and Rs 600 for private hospitals.

The Centre has also turned down the Court's suggestion to issue compulsory licence for vaccines and essential drugs, saying it is doing the best to increase their supplies. It cited the main constraints in availability of raw material and essential inputs, because of which any additional permissions and licences may not result in any increased production immediately.

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