Centre in SC justifies COVID vaccination policy, says no room for judicial intervention
New Delhi: The Centre has justified in the Supreme Court the COVID-19 vaccination policy saying its response and strategy is completely driven by expert medical and scientific opinion which leaves little room for judicial interference and emphasised that citizens of all age groups will get free vaccination throughout the country.
In view of the unprecedented and peculiar circumstances under which vaccination drive is devised as an executive policy, the wisdom of the executive should be trusted , it said.
In a global pandemic, where the response and strategy of the nation is completely driven by expert medical and scientific opinion, “any overzealous, though well-meaning judicial intervention, may lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences”, the government said.
In 218-page affidavit filed late Sunday night in the top court’s suo motu case on COVID-19 management, the Centre said, this policy “conforms to mandate of Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India and is made after several rounds of consultation and discussion with experts, state government and vaccine manufacturers requiring no interference by this Court as while dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude, the executive does have a room for free play in the joints, in larger public interest .
The government further said, It is also submitted that citizens of 18 to 44 years are getting vaccination free of cost as all the State Governments have announced free vaccination for this population group of 18-44 years. Thus, all citizens of all age groups will get free vaccination throughout the country.”
States have also been provided the information of the total number of doses of both vaccines available to them and the UTs from Government of India channel for the identified priority groups (health care workers, frontline workers and population above 45 years of age) free of cost from May 1 to 15 and this data would be released every fortnight, it said.
“It is most respectfully submitted that in the times of such grave and unprecedented crisis which the nation is fighting the disaster of an unprecedented magnitude, the executive functioning of the government needs discretion to formulate policy in larger interest. It is submitted that in view of the unprecedented and peculiar circumstances under which vaccination drive is devised as an executive policy, the wisdom of the executive should be trusted, the affidavit said.
The government said that in a plethora of judgements, the top court has laid down the parameters for judicial review of executive policies, which can only be struck down or interfered with on the grounds of manifest arbitrariness, allowing sufficient play in the joints to the executive, to function in accordance with its Constitutional mandate.
In the context of a global pandemic, where the response and strategy of the nation is completely driven by expert medical and scientific opinion, there is even little room for judicial interference. Any overzealous, though well-meaning judicial intervention may lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences, in absence of any expert advice or administrative experience, leaving the doctors, scientists, experts and executive very little room to find innovative solutions on the go , it said.
It said that the policy, strategy and steps taken by the executive, based on expert medical and scientific advice, have to be appreciated in the context of a medical crisis and as the decisions are taken after detailed deliberations at the highest executive level, for germane reasons, no interference is called for in judicial proceedings, leaving it open for the executive to discharge its executive functions in larger interest .
It said that due to consultations and persuasion by the Central Government both the manufacturers of vaccine — Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India (SII), have declared their respective prices which are uniform for all state governments.
This price factor will not have any impact on the ultimate beneficiary namely, the eligible person getting the vaccine since all State Governments have already declared their policy decision that each State will be administering vaccine to its residents, free of cost, it said.
The government said that by adopting consultative process and discussing at the highest possible level with the existing manufacturers of two vaccines, it is ensured that the pricing of vaccine is also not only reasonable but uniform throughout the country removing any possibility of one citizen in one State getting the vaccine at a higher price as compared to a similarly situated resident residing in another State.
Thus, while it is ensured that the two vaccine manufacturers are not unduly enriched from out of public money, the citizens are not supposed to make any payment for getting both doses of the vaccine , it said.
The affidavit further said that the Centre has taken its executive policy decisions in the most scientific manner, in consultation with experts in the field, keeping in mind the health and well-being of the citizens as the main and only focal point in the context of the unprecedented human crisis faced by the nation.
On an immediate front, the availability, augmentation and enhancement of vaccines and completing vaccination of vulnerable groups is the topmost priority of the nation , it said.