Calls out center’s blind eye towards digital divide
The Supreme court on Monday bashed the centre for “various flaws” in the vaccine-procurement policy in the country. It called out the centre for inadequacies such as negligence of digital divide, inequality in vaccine prices, procurement of global tenders by certain states and corporations, disparity in vaccine availability for different age groups and various other loopholes in the procurement and distribution policies of the vaccine.
A three-member bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, L N Rao and S Ravindrabhat chaired the suo motu hearing on the country’s COVID-19 situation and vaccination policy on the 31st, Monday.
The court was informed by the government that it positively expects to vaccinate the entire population of the country by the end of the year 2021 with no shortages or discrepancies expected.
Addressing the matter of the digital divide in the nation pertaining to the mandatory CoWin registration for vaccine slots, the bench said, “You keep on saying the situation is dynamic but policymakers must have their ears on the ground. You keep on saying digital India, but the situation is actually different in rural areas. How will an illiterate labourer from Jharkhand get registered in Rajasthan? Tell us how you will address this digital divide”.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the centre, replied to the same by saying that registration is mandatory in order to trace the person for their second dose. About the digital divide, he stated that community centres have been set up in rural areas where people can go to get themselves registered for a slot.
“Your rationale was high mortality in 45+ group (but) in the second wave this group is not seriously affected… it is 18-44. If purpose is to procure vaccines, why should the centre procure only for over 45?”, the bench asked, relating to the disparity in vaccine availability for different age groups.
Questioning about the inequality in vaccine prices, the court asked, “For the entire population above 45, the Centre is procuring (vaccines) but for 18-44 there is the bifurcation of procurement — 50 percent available to states by manufacturers and price is fixed by the Centre, and rest to be given to private hospitals. What is the (actual) basis for this?”.
Referring to the fact that states like Punjab, Delhi and even municipal corporations like Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have issued global tenders in order to procure vaccines, the bench questioned the righteousness of this move. It asked the Union Government to stand as a nodal agency to provide vaccines while not letting the states fend for themselves.
“You must smell the coffee and see what is happening across the country. You must know the ground situation and change the policy accordingly. If we had to do it, we would have done it 15-20 days back.”, it added.
The top court has granted two weeks time for the centre to file an affidavit on the same while making the necessary changes discussed in the hearing.