Solicitor general Tushar Mehta and senior advocates Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech, requested the SC to bring together the various pleas in different HCs and consider the issues. A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian agreed to hear on March 18 applications filed by the two manufacturers, along with a pending PIL by Arvind Singh, who had sought a direction for priority vaccination of lawyers, their staff, judges, court staff and others involved in the justice delivery system.
With HCs entertaining PILs seeking vaccination of lawyers and judges, the Centre told the SC that it could not discriminate against other professionals by vaccinating the legal community in breach of the policy to inoculate those above 60 years and those above 45 with co-morbidities.
HC seeks details of vax inventory, making capacity
The Delhi HC had recently criticised the Centre for keeping a tight leash on use of vaccines manufactured by Bharat Biotech (Covaxin) and Serum Institute (Covishield) and questioned export of the shots. “We are not utilising it fully. We are either donating it to foreign countries or selling it to them and are not vaccinating our own people. So, there has to be that sense of responsibility and urgency,” a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli had said on March 4. The HC had also sought details of production capacity of the two manufacturers and an inventory of unused stock.
The Union government said it would not alter the policy decision to vaccinate those above 60 years and those over 45 with co-morbidities. “Government of India has tremendous respect for the profession, but it may not be desirable to create a separate class consisting of lawyers or others below the age of 45 years to discriminate against people engaged in other trades, professions or businesses as such a classification would lead to discrimination,” it said.
It informed the court that 7.6 crore doses of the vaccine were despatched to states and UTs as of Monday and that in the first 49 days of vaccination, India had inoculated 2.1 crore of its citizens as against 3.2 crore in the US, 95.6 lakh in Turkey and 76 lakh in the UK. It said most states started with vaccination of people over the age of 75 years and lowered the age limit gradually.
Probably answering the Delhi HC which questioned exports, the Centre said there was a certain quantity of doses that could be administered daily by the available manpower and infrastructure. India exported only the number of doses that was produced by the two manufacturers in excess of the daily domestic requirement. “Once epidemic takes pandemic form, its management has to be done keeping in mind the entire globe as a unit and it is not possible to take a country-specific approach,” the Centre said.