Supreme Court Questions COVID Vaccine Policy: “You Can’t Just Say You Are The Centre & You Know What’s Right”

We have some concerns. Now we have a spectacle, where different municipal corporations, different states are issuing global tenders, observed the court.

The Supreme Court on Monday posed tough questions to the Central Government about the rationale of the dual pricing and procurement policy of the COVID vaccines.

The govt faced tough questions from a 3-judge bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat. The bench came down heavily on the centre’s decision to let States compete with each other for getting vaccines from private manufactures and let states and even municipal corporations float global tenders for getting foreign vaccines.

“For entire population above 45, centre is procuring (vaccines) but for 18-44 there is bifurcation of procurement – 50 per cent available to states by manufacturers and price is fixed by the centre, and rest to be given to private hospitals. What is the (actual) basis for this?” the court had asked.

“Your rationale was high mortality in 45+ group (but) in the second wave this group is not seriously affected… it is 18-44. If purpose is to procure vaccines, why should the centre procure only for over 45?” a three-member bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, LN Rao and S Ravindra Bhat had asked.

“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.

“We have some concerns. Now we have a spectacle, where different municipal corporations, different states are issuing global tenders. We want to know, is this the policy of the Government of India that every Municipal corporation, every state is left to their own to get vaccine. Look at the capacity of BMC(Mumbai municipal corporation), it might have a budget comparable with some of our states. Does the Government of India contemplate that for the procurement for foreign vaccines, that there will be individual states or corporations submitting bids or are you going to be a nodal agency for the bids?”, Justice Chandrachud observed.

The court also asked why states had to pay more for the vaccines than the centre.

“Why has the government left it to manufacturers to fix price of vaccines? Centre has to take over responsibility of one price for the nation,” the court had stressed, pointing to “price-fixing powers”.

Under the centre’s new “liberalised” policy, which came into effect May 1, states can buy up to 50 per cent of their vaccine needs from manufacturers, although at higher prices than that fixed for the centre.

Justice Ravindra Bhat said that the bench wanted to see the files of the Government policy to understand the rationale.

“Till date we have not seen the policy document which articulates this. We want to see the files. We want to know the rationale. To say that centre will procure at a lesser price, and manufacturers are free to fix prices at their own whims…. we want to know the rationale. We want to know the rationale why the pricing of 50% vaccines is left to manufactures. We want to see the files”, he said.

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