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Constitution Doesn't Envisage Courts To Be Silent Spectators When Executive Policies Infringe Citizens' Rights : SC In COVID Vaccine Case

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
2 Jun 2021 12:50 PM GMT
Constitution Doesnt Envisage Courts To Be Silent Spectators When Executive Policies Infringe Citizens Rights : SC In COVID Vaccine Case
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While raising several questions at the Union Government's COVID vaccination policy and making a prima facie observation certain aspects of the policy are "arbitrary and irrational", the Supreme Court has taken efforts to clarify that it is not breaching the principle of separation of powers and that it is only performing a role envisaged by the Constitution."Our Constitution does not...

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While raising several questions at the Union Government's COVID vaccination policy and making a prima facie observation certain aspects of the policy are "arbitrary and irrational", the Supreme Court has taken efforts to clarify that it is not breaching the principle of separation of powers and that it is only performing a role envisaged by the Constitution.

"Our Constitution does not envisage courts to be silent spectators when constitutional rights of citizens are infringed by executive policies", a bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat observed in the suo moto case In Re Distribution of Essential Services and Supplies During Pandemic.

"Judicial review and soliciting constitutional justification for policies formulated by the executive is an essential function, which the courts are entrusted to perform", the bench observed in the order which highlighted several issues in the Liberalized Vaccination Policy formulated by the Union Government.

The order noted that courts across the globe have responded to constitutional challenges to executive policies that have directly or indirectly violated rights and liberties of citizens.

"Courts have often reiterated the expertise of the executive in managing a public health crisis, but have also warned against arbitrary and irrational policies being excused in the garb of the "wide latitude"to the executive that is necessitated to battle a pandemic", the order observed.

The order referred to last year's decision in Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha vs State of Gujarat(which quashed the Factories Act notification relaxing labour laws) where the Court said that "policies to counteract a pandemic must continue to be evaluated from a threshold of proportionality to determine if they, inter alia, have a rational connection with the object that is sought to be achieved and are necessary to achieve them".

"In grappling with the second wave of the pandemic, this Court does not intend to second-guess the wisdom of the executive when it chooses between two competing and efficacious policy measures. However, it continues to exercise jurisdiction to determine if the chosen policy measure conforms to the standards of reasonableness, militates against manifest arbitrariness and protects the right to life of all persons", it said.

Asserting that it is only "assuming a dialogic jurisdiction", the bench said :

"This Court is presently assuming a dialogic jurisdiction where various stakeholders are provided a forum to raise constitutional grievances with respect to the management of the pandemic. Hence, this Court would,under the auspices of an open court judicial process, conduct deliberations with the executive where justifications for existing policies would be elicited and evaluated to assess whether they survive constitutional scrutiny".

The Court flagged several issues with the Centre's vaccine policy, and observed that the policy of paid vaccination to 18-44 years is prima facie "arbitrary and irrational". The Court also sought to know how the budgetary allocation of Rs.35,000 crores have been spent to procure vaccines and why they can't be used to provide free vaccination to 18-44 years age group. Concerns were also raised about the "digital divide" in accessing Co-Win portal for getting vaccine slots.

The Court has directed the Union Government to respond to the observations made by the bench by filing a fresh affidavit. The Court has also called for all relevant documents and file notings reflecting the thinking of the Centre on the vaccination policy.

The Court directed the Union to undertake a "fresh review" of the vaccination policy in the light of the concerns raised by the Court.

"We find that the the Liberalized Vaccination Policy may not be able to yield the desired results of spurring competitive prices and higher quantities of vaccines", the Court observed.

The case will be next considered on June 30.

How Rs 35000 Crores Budget Allocation Spent For Vaccines?Why Can't It Be Used To Vaccinate 18-44 Years Group? SC Asks Centre

Centre's Policy Of Paid Vaccination For 18-44 Years Prima Facie Arbitrary & Irrational : Supreme Court

Case Details

Title : In Re Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic (Suo Moto Writ Petition(civil) No.3/2021)

Bench : Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao, S Ravindra Bhat

Citation : LL 2021 SC 263
Click here to read/download the order















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