HC asks C'garh govt to modify COVID-19 vaccination plan for 18-44 age group

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Bilaspur, May 5 (PTI) The Chhattisgarh High Court has directed the state government to modify its plan for the third phase of the COVID-19 vaccination drive for citizens in the age group of 18 to 44 years and fix the ratio of allotment of vaccines in an equitable manner.

A division bench of Chief Justice P R Ramachandra Menon and Justice Parth Prateem Sahu passed the order on Tuesday after hearing a suo motu (on its own) public interest litigation (PIL), under which intervention applications were filed challenging the state's order of giving priority in inoculation to economically weaker sections, said Palash Tiwari, advocate for one of the interveners.

In an order issued on April 30, the Chhattisgarh government had announced that in the third phase of the vaccination drive, vaccines will be first given to the Antyodaya group (poorest among poor), followed by persons belonging to the below poverty line (BPL) category and then to those from the above poverty line category.

Five persons had filed intervention applications challenging the state's order, Tiwari said on Wednesday.

Demanding that the order be quashed, the petitioners had contended that prioritising vaccination based on people's 'financial status' is absolutely illegal, illogical and in violation of the constitutional provisions and the Centre's vaccination policy, he said.

During the hearing on Tuesday, the state's Advocate General (AG) Satish Chandra Verma argued that as only a limited quantity of vaccine is available, a sub-classification was deemed necessary.

The AG further said that the Antyodaya group mostly live in remote areas and are rather illiterate without much knowledge about the pandemic or the need to register for vaccination, as a result of which they are moving around freely, causing the disease to spread much faster.

The High Court in its order said, “With regard to the submission made by the counsel for the petitioners that supply of vaccines has to be made on 'first come first serve' basis, according to this Court, this as such may not be appropriate to be implemented when it comes to the case of poor/rural sector that is Antyodaya and BPL groups.' “…..if any steps are taken by the state government to have the benefit extended to such people as well, the object cannot be doubted. But, such a step has necessarily to be in conformity with the constitutional mandate and in tune with the guidelines issued by the Central government at the national level. Prima facie, the sub-classification with reference to the 'financial status' alone as now ordered may not be correct or sustainable,” it stated.

The court asked the state government to formulate a scheme for the poor and set up help desks for spot registration and administering vaccines, without compromising the right of the other segments who are entitled to have equal treatment with regard to the right to life, Tiwari said.

“We are of the view that the state government shall fix a reasonable ratio of allotment of vaccines to the 'Antyodaya Group', the persons belonging to the BPL and APL, with reference to all the relevant aspects, including vulnerability, chance to spread the disease and the number of eligible persons in the group,” the order said.

The court has directed the state government to hold a discussion with secretaries of the relevant departments at the higher level to distribute the vaccines in an equitable manner and said the implementation of the state's order stands modified to the said extent, Tiwari said.

The matter has been posted for next hearing on May 7, he added. PTI COR ARU ARU