SC to Centre: Why are you not buying, distributing all vaccines?

Legal Correspondent New Delhi | Updated on April 30, 2021

Asks govt why it is not compulsory licensing vaccines, calling them public property

Vaccine manufacturing is publicly funded and vaccines are public property, the Supreme Court said today and asked the Centre why it has not considered invoking Section 92 of the Patents Act for their compulsory licensing.

A Special Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat asked the Centre why it has not procured 100 per cent of the vaccines and distributed them equitably, but is leaving it to the manufacturers. The court said the Centre cannot possibly enforce equity in vaccine distribution when it was itself buying only 50 per cent of doses. The Bench asked whether, now, one State would get priority access over another to the vaccines.

Where is pricing equity?

Turning to the pricing of the vaccines, the Bench asked how the Centre expected a sense of equity from the manufacturers. Justice Bhat pointed out that they were charging the Centre ₹150 but giving to the States at ₹300 and ₹400.

“Why should we as a nation pay this? The price difference becomes ₹30,000-40,000 crore... AstraZeneca is providing vaccines at far lower price to the US citizens then why should we be paying so much?” Justice Bhat said.

Justice Chandrachud also questioned how the Centre intended ensuring registration for vaccines for illiterate people considering that a CO-WIN registration is mandatory for a jab.

On the plight of medical workers, nurses and doctors, the court said it is not enough to declare them ‘Covid Warriors’. It wanted to know what was being done for them on the ground. “What is being done for shortage of medical staff? How are doctors being safeguarded and treated for Covid-19,” Justice Chandrachud asked the government.

No clampdown on info

Reminding the States that this was a time of great crisis, the Bench warned them and their police set-up against clamping down on the spread of information or calls for help through social media from citizens affected by Covid-19.

Any move by any State to punish citizens who take to the social media to seek help for oxygen cylinders, Covid-19 drugs, beds, etc., would attract the contempt of court action, it said.

“We don’t want any clampdown of information. We will treat it as a contempt of court if such grievances is considered for action. Let a strong message go to all the States and DGPs. Clampdown of information is contrary to basic precepts,” Justice Chandrachud said categorically.

Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta said the litigation was non-adversarial. “As an officer of the court, I fully agree with what Your Lordships have said,” he said.

Justice Chandrachud said free flow of information during the 1970 famine enabled the government tackle problem effectively as compared to the clampdown during the 1918 pandemic.

Published on April 30, 2021

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