The Supreme Court of India asked a tricky question to the central government about the reasons for adopting dual pricing and procurement policy of the COVID vaccines. A 3-judge bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao, and S Ravindra Bhat was hearing the Suo moto case on COVID issues.
Court also asked why the Centre has a different policy for 18-45 years and 45+ age group. How will you justify the position of states who cannot buy vaccines?
The Court also questioned the central government at making COWIN registrations mandatory for getting vaccines.
“We are not framing policy. There’s an order of 30th April that these are the problems. You will be flexible. You can’t just say that you’re the Centre and you know what’s right. We have a strong arm to come down on this“, Justice Chandrachud told the Solicitor General of India, Mr.Tushar Mehta, when the latter said that these are policy issues on which the Court has limited judicial review power.
“We are not changing the policy. We are asking you to please wake up and smell the coffee and see what’s happening across the country”, Justice Chandrachud said.
Justice Chandrachud reminded the government of Article 1 and said, “There is a vital issue. Article 1 of the Constitution says that India, that Bharat is a Union of States. When the Constitution says that, then we follow the federal rule. Then Government of India has to procure the vaccines and distribute them. The Individual States cannot be left in a lurch.”
Court questioned the Centre on dual pricing and said they are asking the states to pick up and compete in vaccine procurement.
Justice Ravindra Bhat said that the Court wants to see the files to understand the rationale. He said we want to know why the pricing of 50% vaccine is left with the manufacturer? Why central government and state governments are buying vaccines at different rates? Why are manufacturers free to price for the state? We want to know the rationale.
Justice Bhat asked why the Centre is not using its power to fix rates of the vaccines. The Centre has the authority under the Drugs and Cosmetics Control Act to control the prices.
The solicitor general said the Court should not examine the prices of vaccines as it might hamper the vaccination program.
Replying to the contention of the solicitor general, the Court said, we are only questioning the Center’s role.
Justice Bhat further said,” We want the rationale of the dual policy. What is the rationale? If there is enough, then we will leave it. We will not hamper you in the negotiation.”
Solicitor general submitted the Centre is expecting to vaccinate all its citizen by the end of 2021. He also told the court that the Centre is in talks with big pharma companies for vaccine supplies.
The Court ordered the solicitor general to submit the affidavits on the issue raised by the Court. The Solicitor general told the Court that policy is not “cast in stone” and was flexible in responding to the dynamic Covid situations.