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COVID Vaccines : Why States Have To Pay Higher Prices? Price Must Be Uniform, Supreme Court Tells Centre

Radhika Roy
31 May 2021 9:42 AM GMT
COVID Vaccines : Why States Have To Pay Higher Prices? Price Must Be Uniform, Supreme Court Tells Centre
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"There needs to be one price for COVID-19 vaccines across the nation", said the Supreme Court during the suo moto case on COVID-related issues (In Re Distribution of Essential Services and Supplies During Pandemic). A 3-Judge Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat posed tough questions to the Central Government on the rationale of the dual...

"There needs to be one price for COVID-19 vaccines across the nation", said the Supreme Court during the suo moto case on COVID-related issues (In Re Distribution of Essential Services and Supplies During Pandemic).


A 3-Judge Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat posed tough questions to the Central Government on the rationale of the dual pricing and procurement policy of COVID vaccines adopted by the Central Government.

In today's hearing, Justice Chandrachud raised the issue as to whether 50% of the population between the age of 18 to 45 would even be able to afford the vaccines and noted that in order to alleviate such a divide, a uniform policy for both procurement and distribution had to be established.

Remarking that Article 1 of the Constitution of India said "Bharat, shall be a Union of States", Justice Chandrachud observed, "When the Constitution says that, then we follow the federal rule. The Government has to procure the vaccine and distribute it. Individual States cannot be left in a lurch. What is the vaccine policy of India? Do you treat yourselves as one National Agency and procure for the States or have the States been left on their own?"




The aforementioned observation came in the context of how States were floating global tenders, but the same was being rejected as some foreign corporations only had a policy to deal with countries and not states.

In light of this, the Bench sought for the vaccination policy and directed the Centre to explain the rationale behind adopting the dual policy. It further questioned the rationale for the Centre procuring vaccines for those above the age of 45 and leaving the 18 to 45 age group.

"Can we say that 50% of the population between 18 to 45 will be able to afford the vaccines? Not at all. How do we look at the marginalised and those who cannot provide for themselves. These are areas we have to look at critically. Also, why do States have to pay a higher price. You have to ensure that vaccines are available at the same price across the nation", said Justice Chandrachud.

This issue was also addressed by Amicus Curiae Sr. Advs. Jaideep Gupta and Meenakshi Arora.

Gupta brought to the fore the point that different States had different economic conditions, and it was upon the Centre to procure the vaccines for the whole country. Arora, on the other hand, submitted that Entry 29 of the Concurrent List as well as the Entry 81 of the Union List put the onus of procurement of vaccines at the doorstep of the Centre.

The Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta said that he will place the details in an affidavit. The top law officer of the union also said that the policy of the government was not "cast in stone" and was flexible to respond to the dynamic situation.

The Court has adjourned the hearing for two weeks asking the Centre to respond to the concerns raised by the judges.


Background

On April 30, the bench had raised several pertinent queries regarding the Centre's vaccination policy, distribution of essential medicines and oxygen allocation to states. The bench had made a prima facie observation that the Centre's vaccination was detrimental to the right to health of citizens and required a revisit to make it conform to the mandate of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.


The Court had also suggested that the Centre should explore options like compulsory licensing over COVID vaccines and drugs, and that the vaccines should be centrally procured from manufacturers.

In response, the Centre has filed an affidavit, saying that its vaccination policy was formulated on the basis of widespread consultations with experts and stakeholders, and was therefore conforming with Articles 14 and 21.The Centre also resisted judicial review of the policy by saying "any overzealous, though well-meaning judicial intervention may lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences".

Also read other reports of the hearing :

'You Can't Just Say You Are The Centre & You Know What's Right. We Have A Strong Arm To Come Down On This' : Supreme Court Questions COVID Vaccine Policy

'People Are Not Getting Vaccine Slots; Getting Distress Calls' : Supreme Court Questions Co-WIN Registration Requirement For Vaccination



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