New Delhi [India], April 30 (ANI): The Supreme Court on Friday questioned the Central government over not following the 'national immunisation programme' policy in the COVID-19 vaccination drive.
This comes as vaccination drive for people above 18 years will commence from May 1. It will include people falling in the age group of 18-44 years.
A Bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud took note of the difference in the price of the vaccines and said that the differential pricing of vaccine for the Centre, states, and private hospitals is "very disturbing".
It asked the Centre to explain why the COVID-19 vaccine has been priced differently for the states, the private sector, and the Centre.
The Bench also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat asked the Central government as to why it is not buying 100 percent of COVID vaccine doses as it is in the best place to determine equity and disburse.
"Why cannot the government buy all vaccines and proceed on the lines of the national immunisation programme," asked the Bench, adding that the government must consider national immunisation programme for various vaccines and must think of providing free of cost vaccination to all citizens.
It also flagged the concerns about the exclusion of SC/STs, disenfranchised from vaccination coverage.
It further asked the Centre not to leave vaccine pricing to the manufacturers and asked the government how will it ensure equity by private vaccine manufacturers when it is buying only 50 percent of the doses.
"Do not leave it to the manufacturers. How will they determine equity? Invoke your powers to see that additional facilities are created for vaccine manufacturing," the Bench told the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Centre.
The court said that the private manufacturers cannot be left to decide which state should get how much quantity vaccines.
It also observed that AstraZeneca is providing vaccines at a far lower price to the US citizens then why should we be paying so much?
The Bench also noted that medical professionals are reaching a breaking point. "We can not just say they are COVID warriors. Look at how nurses are dying, they play a vital role. It is time we speak about them and express gratitude," it said.
"Use your powers Solicitor General to see whoever is doing more than they should, should be paid more. Why do you want to expose the doctors and no accommodation is available for them why wait for the fourteenth day etc., we need them by our side," the apex court added.
The Bench was hearing suo moto proceedings initiated by it on issues related to oxygen supply, drug supply, and vaccine policy in relation to the COVID-19 situation in the country.
Concluding today's hearing, the Bench said the interim order giving a slew of directions will be dictated today evening and the order will be uploaded on the Supreme Court's website tomorrow morning. It posted the matter for hearing next on May 10.
During the hearing, the top court said there should not be any clampdown on citizens communicating their grievances related to COVID-19 on social media.
The apex court said, "We want to make it very clear that if citizens communicate their grievance on social media, then it cannot be said it is wrong information. We do not want any clampdown of information. We will treat it as a contempt of court if such grievances are considered for action."
"Let a strong message go to all the states and DGP of states that clampdown of info is contrary to basic precepts," the court said.
The Bench also asked the Centre regarding the quantity of oxygen made available to critical states.
It asked how much oxygen is available on average in India. Solicitor General said it depends on daily needs. When the Bench asked if there a deficit of oxygen in the country, Mehta replied that "as of date, it's not in deficit".
Solicitor General added that oxygen supply is a dynamic issue and if there is a sudden surge, figures are bound to increase, then allocation also increases.
On oxygen supply to Delhi through tankers, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was appearing for the Centre said, "The Union government is providing tankers. There was some scarcity of tankers and now it has been eased out. Delhi is a non-industrial state and that is why the issue is more acute but we are putting more tankers to work. By and large, oxygen has been supplied to each and every heavy load state."
"Delhi shows the demand had increased where there was 123 percent increase and revised need was 700 MT and then you say you allocated 490 MT? If there is a 200 MT deficit then you should give that straight away to Delhi. Centre has an important responsibility as far as citizens of Delhi are concerned," the apex court said.
"You have said surplus is there in the steel sector, then use that and supply to Delhi. Between today and Monday there will be 500 deaths in our hands," it said.
The court further told Mehta, "Delhi represents the nation and you have to push through since you have to save lives, you have a special responsibility as the Centre. As a national authority which has a responsibility to the national capital you are answerable to the citizens."
During the hearing, the bench told senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government in this humanitarian crisis we do not want lives to be lost in political bickering.
"We told Centre how it has a special responsibility to Delhi from Centre but we need to send a message to the highest levels of your government that in this humanitarian crisis we do not want lives to be lost in political bickering. Politics can be done during elections. Interact with the Centre. Ask your chief secretary to speak with Solicitor General Tushar Mehta," the apex court told Mehra, who assured the court that the Delhi government will follow it in letter and spirit.
Additional Secretary Sumita Dawra gave PowerPoint presentation to the judges informing about oxygen capacity in the country.
Dwara said as a responsible officer, I will say, "We have sufficient oxygen in the country."
She said, "51,000 MT is lying with us which is industrial oxygen and out of which 19,871 MT is liquid medical oxygen. There is no need to panic. We have 13,000 MT of surplus oxygen in the country."
She said, "These are unprecedented times and oxygen is being used at a very high rate."
The apex court on April 22 took suo motu cognisance of the "alarming situation" in connection with various health emergencies including oxygen shortage, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and issued notice to the Centre seeking a response on kinds of immediate and effective action it can take to handle such situation.
The court, during the previous hearing, asked the Centre to present and apprise it as to whether a national plan can be prepared to handle this worrisome situation. It made these remarks, after noting and taking into the record at least six different state High Courts, including the Delhi High Court, have been hearing the matter on the same issues. (ANI)