“In a moment of national crisis, it is the Union's responsibility to negotiate for vaccines for the entire country. Individual states cannot be permitted to negotiate on their own.”
- Justice Chandrachud.
As the world has been stuck in a deadly pandemic due to Coronavirus. The Supreme Court, on Monday, 31st May, grilled the Central Government on the reason for its dual pricing and procurement policy for COVID vaccines, as well as its departure from the National Immunization Program and its requirement of COWIN App registration.
According to Justice Chandrachud, “Article 1 of the Constitution of India states that- Bharat is a Union of states. When the constitution says that we follow the federal rule. Individual states are left in lurch. The government of India has to procure and then distribute the vaccines. It was also said by Justice Bhat that a dual pricing and dual procurement policy needs to be followed by the states.
With reference to the Suo Moto Case on Covid Issues, the hearing was done by a three-judge bench of, Justices L. Nageswara Rao, D. Y. Chandrachud and Ravindra Bhat.
According to SG Tushar Mehta- "According to our estimates, the whole eligible population in the home market, which is India, will be vaccinated by the end of the year. The central government is also in active talks with Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies. On a diplomatic level, the Minister for External Affairs and even the Prime Minister are communicating. It would be premature for me to say anything because nothing has been finalised. The government, on the other hand, has been really enthusiastic about it. The discussion has progressed to a fairly advanced stage. We might be able to get it, depending on the circumstances. If this occurs, the timescale will be shortened even further.".[i]
The central government will acquire vaccines that will be provided free of charge, while state governments will have agreements with manufacturers for the population under 45, and private hospitals will handle the other 50% of the purchase.
The magistrate went on to say that there are two concerns here: To begin with, while the Center claims that mortality is higher in the post-45 age group than in the pre-45 age group, in the pandemic of second wave, it was not only the population above 45 that was severely hit, but also the pre-45 population.
Global tenders are issued by several municipal administrations in various states. That has been accomplished by the Punjab administration. We are also aware that Delhi attempted to do so. Is it the approach of the Indian government that each municipal corporation and state has its own device for issuing tenders to buy vaccinations from overseas suppliers? Take a look at the Bombay Municipal Corporation, which has a budget that exceeds that of other Indian states! Can it be competed with by municipal corporations in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, or Tamil Nadu, which may not have the same budget?
Does the Union of India intend for individual states or businesses to receive bids for vaccine procurement, or will you be the central agency for obtaining these bids and vaccines at a single price? "This is quite important," Justice Chandrachud stated. Justice Rao further stated that, according to one hypothesis, the distribution should be based on health conditions and comorbidities for all age groups, including those aged 18 to 45, and that the central government should adopt a policy to ensure that, rather than focusing just on the population ratio.
Only 75 percent of vaccinations are administered in metropolitan areas. It is not heading to the countryside. The reality on the ground is quite different. The need of the hour is to vaccinate areas which are not well off, as it is an issue, which needs to be taken care of because main workforce comes from there. Why is there such a large pricing difference?
This country's strategy, which has been in place since the start and is being trailed by other countries during the pandemic, is to distribute immunizations to everyone at no cost. The whole duty for administering immunizations rests with the Centre. It is critical that the Centre explain its policy to the court as to why the price disparity between when the Centre acquired it and how the states obtain it-150 against 300/400 for the states and 900 for the private sector-is so large.