Govt to ensure untapped potential for COVID vaccine manufacturing not taken away by foreigners: HC

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New Delhi, May 31 (PTI) In these extraordinary circumstances when vaccines are urgently needed for saving lives from COVID-19 which has not spared any family, the Centre must ensure the untapped potential in the country is not taken away by foreigners, the Delhi High Court said on Monday, while expressing exasperation over the functioning of officers.

“In ordinary times, they could sit in their air-conditioned rooms but not now,' the high court said, noting that COVID-19 vaccine production by two companies in India is not enough and the Centre should expedite the process of clearing samples of Panacea Biotec which has collaborated with Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) for manufacturing Sputnik V vaccine here.

A bench of Justices Manmohan and Najmi Waziri also termed as “disturbing” the Centre’s reply, filed in the matter, saying the authorities were virtually saying they are not aware of what the firm has been doing and its relation with Sputnik.

“Your officers have to be on the ground. They are oblivious of the developments. These are extraordinary circumstances. Your officers must be aware that vaccines are being produced which will be used for saving human lives.

“In ordinary times, they could sit in their air-conditioned rooms but not now. COVID-19 has not spared any family. It is very serious. You are saving human lives today. They must understand that people are dying,” the bench said, adding that it was a serious issue as it concerns all Indians.

The high court’s observations came while hearing a plea of Delhi-based Panacea Biotec which has sought the release of an arbitral award, passed in its favour and against the Centre, saying it needs funds at the earliest in the larger interest of humanity as it has already manufactured trial batches of COVID vaccine Sputnik V in collaboration with RDIF and the process of manufacturing scale-up batches is on.

The bench said the Centre’s officers are required to show some sensitivity and urgency in the matter.

“You (Centre) have to ensure these untapped potentials are not taken away by foreigners... Your officers have to be far more imaginative. They are not moving out of their offices. Every day we see the Delhi government’s statement that such and such vaccination centres are closed as there is no vaccine,” the bench said.

Justice Manmohan, whose regular bench is with Justice Navin Chawla, said Justice Chawla was not sitting today as there is a death in his family due to COVID-19.

The bench said COVID vaccine will be most required in the country and should be allowed to be produced here as news reports say that a third wave of COVID-19 is also coming and the nation needs to be prepared for it.

The bench also questioned the Centre for not processing Panacea’s case on priority as it was producing the same product which has been produced by the Russian company initially and asked as to what more was required to be done in this regard.

“Are these vaccines (Sputnik V) being injected into people in India or not. It (Panacea) is making the same product which was allowed to be imported by the Indian government. What more is required? “If you are scared of CBI or CVC, we will put it in our order, you don’t need to be bothered. There is an urgency which we are seeing and everyone is seeing. Can we emphasis on that urgency,” the bench said.

During the hearing, Additional Solicitor General Balbir Singh, representing the Centre, said on enquiring the issue, they have come to know that capital investment is provided by Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and presently the tests have been conducted and samples of Panacea have not been approved.

He said no licence has been granted to it and referred to a recent statement made by RDIF and Dr Reddy’s that they have not authorised anyone to manufacture the vaccine in India.

Countering this, senior advocate Sandeep Sethi, representing Panacea Biotec, said it has only got an advance amount from RDIF and it needs further funds to ramp up its production which has to be 100 million (10 crore) doses per year.

He said the veracity of the vaccine has been tested by the government of India to be good to be used and it does not require any other approval except that its manufactured samples have been sent to Kasauli for testing and they should be identical to Dr Reddy’s product.

He said by mid of June, the testing is expected to be completed and thereafter, production will be done.

“I am only asking for my money which was awarded to me by the arbitral tribunal, not any advance. The Centre has given advances of Rs 3,000 crores to two other manufacturers of the vaccines to produce it,” Sethi said.

The plea is seeking modification in a July 2020 order, by which the firm had undertaken not to further the execution proceedings instituted by it on an arbitral award, running into crores of rupees, passed in its favour.

The court said “The vaccine should be out now, it is required in villages, small cities, big cities, everywhere. Your bureaucrats must do hand-holding. After saying so much that day (on earlier hearing) still nothing has moved.” The court said if the money is released to the company after approval of samples, how it will secure the amount and what security the firm was ready to give.

To this, Sethi said the firm was ready to deposit 20 percent of its first sale of the vaccines with the high court.

While the court asked Sethi to take instructions on whether the firm can offer any other security, it told Singh that he should also come back with instructions on the issue and listed the matter for further hearing on June 2. PTI SKV SKV RT RT

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