MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni was on Monday informed that the Union ministry of Health would not permit the BMC to conduct door-to-door vaccination drive for the elderly and bedridden citizens. The state, however, informed the bench that its task force is drafting the SOP to be followed for door-to-door vaccination drives across the state for those who cannot come out of their house.
The bench was seized with a PIL filed by advocate Dhruti Kapadia seeking door-to-door vaccination drive for the elderly and bedridden citizens.
In the previous hearing held last week, the judges had ordered the Union government to spell out if it would permit the BMC to hold such drive in Mumbai as the civic body maintained that it would proceed only after it gets a green signal from the Union health ministry.
On Monday, when the matter was called out for hearing through video conferencing, additional solicitor general Anil Singh told the judges that the Union ministry has reiterated that it won't allow door-to-door drive as of now.
Singh cited the opinion of the National Experts Group for Vaccination Against Covid19 (NEGVAC), an expert body constituted by the Union government and said that the panel comprising of around 20 experts have advised against the door-to-door drive.
"As of now the body has allowed near the home drive for vaccinating citizens. All arrangements are made for this policy. It is the national vaccination policy as on date and we (Union) expect all states to follow our national policy," Singh submitted.
"Today there is scarcity of doses, thus we don't want wastage of the vaccines. Even the waiting period has to be complied with. Thus, NEGVAC has decided against door-to-door vaccination," the ASG said, adding, "If in future the body allows this drive, we will permit BMC. But at present this drive isn't practical."
At this, Kapadia pointed out that the national vaccination policy doesn't mention bedridden citizens and has excluded them.
"When other states are allowed to go ahead with door-to-door drives then why can't Maharashtra and Mumbai be allowed? Why should citizens here suffer?" Kapadia argued pointing out that states like Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar and Odisha have already commenced door-to-door drives.
CJ Datta having heard the submission, sought to know of the Union's stand on these states. "These states aren't following the national policy. So is it your (Union) stand that your advisory is left to the wisdom of the states?" "No, we expect states to follow our guidelines or advisory," the ASG responded.
Further Justice Kulkarni questioned ASG Singh if the Union has passed any prohibitory orders against these states asking them to stop the door-to-door drives, to which the ASG responded in negative.
"So this means that if Maharashtra starts this drive then it would be standing on the same line as Kerala and other states are. Isn't it so Mr ASG? Since there isn't any prohibition from your end," Justice Kulkarni remarked. However, Singh had no response and only smiled.
Accordingly, the chief justice questioned senior counsel Anil Sakhare for the BMC as to which guidelines would the civic body follow. "State health minister Rajesh Tope has said guidelines are being formulated for door-to-door drive. But Union policy doesn't allow such a drive. So no which guidelines would you follow?" CJ Datta questioned.
Responding to the CJ, Sakhare replied, "We will follow the state's guidelines. However, the state should tell by when it would have the guidelines as we will have to manage work accordingly."
"There is an issue of manpower. Three persons will have to visit a house. Also, wastage will have to be avoided," Sakhare added.
On being questioned, AGP Geeta Shastri for the state submitted that the state-appointed task force is working out a policy for allowing home vaccination for those who aren't able to go to the center.
"The task force is drafting the SOP. In fact the state health minister Rajesh Tope had made an announcement on this two days ago. It would have provisions for the family to give consent for the probable impact of the jab. Even the family doctor will have to give in written that the citizen needs to be vaccinated," Shastri submitted.
However, Shastri wasn't in a position to make a statement as to within how many days would this SOP be issued.
Meanwhile, the bench said it would pass appropriate directives for the Union, state and the BMC to follow.