Supreme Court over slow Covid-19 vaccination in rural India
NEW DELHI: The Centre had a tough time at Supreme Court on Monday, being criticised for its unclear vaccination policy. A three-judge bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud questioned Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on the steps being taken and the digital divide between rural and urban India.
Citing technical glitches on the official CoWIN app for vaccination registrations, Justice Bhat told Mehta he had received distress calls from all over the country. He added that young people having registered are visiting private hospitals only to find that slots booked.
On the Centre’s submission that the court should not interfere in policy, Justice Chandrachud told Mehta this is a platform for dialogue across the spectrum.
“The idea is not to criticise, but to strengthen the arms of the government. The fact that MEA went abroad, had dialogue shows the seriousness of the situation,” said Justice Chandrachud.
The Centre also informed the court it is confident of vaccinating all eligible persons above 18 by the year end. The matter was adjourned on Monday, as the court gave two weeks to the Centre to file an affidavit with its response to the questions raised in the hearing regarding the country’s vaccine policy.
The court also questioned the reason behind not supplying vaccines for people below 45 and said: “Our question is, what is the rationale. For the population above 45 we will supply vaccines, but for those under 45, states are left to make arrangements.”
The court also questioned how is the Centre addressing the digital divide and its constraints in rural India. To this, Mehta said: “Every village has a service centre. If I’m a villager who doesn’t have a cell phone, the common service centre will register me and then I will get vaccinated.”
The bench did not seem impressed by this. “You must keep your ear to the ground. You keep saying digital India, but see what’s happening. A poor agricultural worker from Jharkhand, who works in Rajasthan, has to go back to Jharkhand to get registered,” asked the court.
To this, Mehta replied: “No. Registration is where he stays. Registration is such so that tracing can be done if you have one dose or two doses.”
The court stuck to the digital divide aspect. “We are asking how are you answering the digital divide. How are you ensuring that migrant agricultural labourers going from one state to other are getting vaccinated,” asked the court. However, Mehta objected and said it is a policy decision.