The Supreme Court has asked the Central government to furnish complete data on the government’s purchase history of all the COVID-19 vaccines till date, including 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.
The Court also ordered the government to provide 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 so vaccinated, the court said.
The Bench sought not only the data but "all the relevant documents and file noting(s) reflecting its thinking, culminating in its vaccination policy.’’
PAAID POLICY IRRATIONAL: The court also said the Centre’s paid vaccination policy for 18-44 age group is “arbitrary and irrational.” The Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat noted that the policy does not prioritize persons with co-morbidities and other diseases and persons with disabilities.
As of now, the Centre’s policy provides for a free regime for those who are 45 and above and a paid one for those in the 18-44 age group. The court noted, in this context, that most exposed to the second wave were the relatively young in the 18-44 age group. "If ₹35,000 crores have been allocated for inoculation, why it cannot be used for vaccinating the 18-44 age group," the judges have questioned.
The court has also questioned if the states were ready to vaccinate the 18-44-year-olds for free.
PROCUREMENT POLICY: Regarding the vaccine procurement policy, the top court stated that given that inter-State barriers in India are porous and persons are free to migrate and work in different parts of the country, it is essential to understand if the pro rata allotment will take into account such migration to more densely populated industrial and urban States/ Union Territories.
POLICY DECISIONS: Since the Central government had submitted that such decisions are within the executive domain and that the top court should not intervene in policy matters, the Supreme Court clarified that it does not intend to second-guess the wisdom of the executive when it chooses between two competing and efficacious policy measures. However, it added that it exercises jurisdiction to determine whether the policy is reasonable or not.
The Apex Court was hearing the suo motu case of supply of vaccines, essential medicines and oxygen.
The Centre has been asked to provide clarifications on six points -- including preparedness for needs of children in the event of a third wave, number of crematorium workers vaccinated, and a roadmap of projected availability of vaccines till December 31. The apex court has also asked the Centre to share its plan on how and when the government will vaccinate the remaining population in phases 1, 2, and 3. Further, the Court also sought information on the steps being taken by the Central government to ensure drug availability for black fungus.
Urban-Rural Digital Divide
The Bench also stated that "there exists a digital divide in India, particularly between the rural and urban areas." "The extent of the advances made in improving digital literacy and digital access falls short of penetrating the majority of the population in the country. Serious issues of the availability of bandwidth and connectivity pose further challenges to digital penetration," the court said. It noted that the digital divide could have serious implications on the fundamental right to equality and the right to health of persons within the above age group. The court, therefore, directed the Central government to clarify whether it is feasible to require the majority of our population to rely on friends/NGOs for digital registrations over CoWIN, when even the digitally literate are finding it hard to procure vaccination slots.
The Supreme Court further noted that the CoWIN website suffers from certain impediments.