‘Policy must change as per ground situation’: Supreme Court on mandatory CoWin registration for Covid-19 vaccine

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The Centre found itself in a difficult spot when the Supreme Court, on Monday, flagged “various flaws” in its vaccination policy, including the need of making CoWin registration mandatory without keeping India’s “digital divide” in mind.

Observing that policy makers must have an ear on the ground, a special bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, L N Rao and S Ravindrabhat asked the Centre as to how it plans to address the issue of digital divide since it has made CoWin registration for vaccination mandatory.

“You keep on saying the situation is dynamic but policy makers must have their ears on ground. You keep on saying digital India, but the situation is actually different in rural areas. How will an illiterate labourer from Jharkhand get registered in Rajasthan? Tell us how you will address this digital divide,” the bench sought to know from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

It added, “You must smell the coffee and see what is happening across the country. You must know the ground situation and change the policy accordingly. If we had to do it, we would have done it 15-20 days back.”

Mehta replied that registration is mandatory as a person needs to be traced for a second dose and as far as rural areas are concerned, there are community centres where a person can get registered to get a shot.

The bench then questioned Mehta whether the government thinks that this process is viable and asked him to place the policy document on record.

The top court was hearing a suo motu case on management of Covid-19 situation in the country.

The court was told that the government expects to vaccinate all of India by end-2021, to which it highlighted roadblocks, including discrepancy in vaccine supply for different age groups. “For the entire population above 45, the Centre is procuring (vaccines) but for 18-44 there is bifurcation of procurement — 50 per cent available to states by manufacturers and price is fixed by the Centre, and rest to be given to private hospitals. What is the (actual) basis for this?” the court had asked.

It also asked the Centre about the vaccine procurement policy by referring to the fact that states like Punjab and Delhi are in the process of issuing global tenders to procure foreign vaccines. The bench said that even Municipal Corporations like Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation have received bids.

“Is this the policy of the Central government that the state or municipal corporation can procure the vaccine or the Union Government is going to procure for them like a nodal agency? We want clarity on this and rationale behind this policy,” the bench said.

The court also asked why states had to pay more for the vaccines than the Centre. The Centre has been given two weeks to respond to these issues and concerns

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