While addressing the nation on Monday, 7 June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced centralisation of the COVID-19 vaccine drive and said that all vaccines will be procured by the Centre and given to the states for free. Everybody above the age of 18 years will be vaccinated for free by the Centre from 21 June, he added.
Reacting to the development, several pointed out that the said reversal came days after the Centre was lambasted by the Supreme Court over the “various flaws” in its inoculation drive and the Centre being pulled up for letting the states procure vaccines and leaving them “in the lurch”.
Soon after, government sources told news agency ANI that the plan for centralised and free vaccination was “presented to PM Modi on 1 June, on the completion of one month of the decentralised model” and that the PM has given “in-principle approval” to the same date.
Times Now Group Editor Navika Kumar also tweeted the same drawing a direct link between the change in the policy and SC hearing questioning the Opposition for crediting SC for the change in the policy.
In a now deleted tweet she wrote, “I’m being told that reverting to centralised procurement policy for vaccines was on the @narendramodi @PMOIndia table on June 1. A detailed presentation & his ok was inked the same day. SC hearing was on June 2. Over to Opposition. (sic)”
But the order was dictated on 31 May by the Supreme Court of India, a day before the said presentation was made. Further, this wasn’t the only time when the SC had pulled up the Centre. In another order passed on 30 April, SC had questioned the government’s vaccination policy.
Let’s take a look at both the orders.
SC Raps Centre’s Vaccine Plan on 31 May
The Supreme Court on 31 May, rapped the Centre for its policy of dual pricing for COVID-19 vaccination and questioned the rationale behind letting states and even civic bodies compete with each other for getting vaccines from private manufactures via global tenders.
The observations were made by a three-judge Bench, comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao, and S Ravindra Bhat, while hearing the suo moto case on the COVID-19 crisis.
“There is a vital issue. Article 1 of the Constitution says that India, that is 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 it. Individual states cannot be left in the lurch,” Chandrachud said.
The court also questioned non-uniformity in vaccines being procured by states from manufacturers.
“Why do the states have to pay a higher price? You have to ensure that vaccines are available at the same price across the nation. You can't have a different price at the Centre and different at the states,” Justice Chandrachud said.
The court asked why free vaccination was not a choice for the 18-44 age group, if it was for the 45+ category.
However, this is not the first time that the court questioned the Centre’s vaccination policy. In its 30 April hearing, the court mentioned about “centralisation of the procurement” of vaccines and “decentralisation” of the distribution.
“Whether the procurement is for the central government or the states, it is ultimately meant for the citizens. Why must we not adopt the model of the National Immunisation Programme?”
“Why can’t the Centre acquire hundred percent, identify the manufacturers and negotiate with them and then distribute to the states? We are talking about the centralisation of the procurement and the decentralisation of the distribution. You have given 50 percent quota to the states.
What’s the Confusion Then?
The order, which was dictated on 31 May was expected to be published on the same day but on 1 June, that there was a delay in uploading the order and had said that 95 percent of the cases before the vacation bench were “frivolous” and that time could have been spent on more important issues.
The official Supreme Court order mentions that the prima facie observations were “decided on 31 May”, however, it was uploaded on 2 June wherein the apex court termed the Centre’s “Liberalised Vaccination Policy” as “arbitrary and irrational”, as it did not provide free vaccination for those in the age group of 18 to 44 years.
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