Justice Chandrachud and others, IMHO, have taken a myopic view on vaccination

3rd June 2021

3rd June 2021

Justice DK Chandrachud

The Supreme Court, Justice DK Chandrachud and others, have placed the muck on Centre’s door on vaccination. The only thing they haven’t asked the Centre to explain is, it would seem, if they used the right or left hand for noting on files. 

To me it appears a questionnaire on vaccination: how, why, where, whom, when, which, whose etc. That’s what you do when you interrogate a criminal: You want every detail of his past, including the lunch he had in his drawing room, three years ago, on first Monday, in the month of May, at 1.05 p.m. As well as one in future, as to where he would’ve the lunch on the first Monday of May at 1.05 p.m three years from hence. That’s what you do when you’re suspicious of someone’s conduct. 

Supreme Court of course is doing so because “Our Constitution does not envisage courts to be silent spectators when Constitutional rights of citizens are infringed by executive policies” and that it must militate “against manifest arbitrariness and protects the right to life of all persons.” It’s a laudable sentiment and the absence of the same on protesting farmers must not be used to detract from its nobleness. 

Similarly, the Supreme Court must be knowing its Constitution that health is a State subject. But vaccination must rest with the Centre. My only issue is: They ought to have intervened when a few States (details here) were clamouring for vaccination for all adults. 

The Supreme Court could’ve redeemed itself with a few questions then raised: (a) How could 100 crores be vaccinated with a crore of doses a month?; (b) What have States done to vaccinate its citizens in the three months since it’s been made available free; (c ) And remember, that inoculation for 18-44 years is the one you asked for it—Centre still wants to cut its cloth as per its size. 

Instead, what we have? The Supreme Court calls policy for 18-44 years to pay “arbitrary” and “irrational.” Who 18-44 years are paying to? Not Centre but States (or private hospitals)! Isn’t it a fact that short supply earns a premium?  Centre is looking after 45+ while States had asked for 18+ adults. That’s the 50:50 formula. What was being provided for free by the Centre, half of it is now with States to use it as they deem fit. 

Truth is, Supreme Court too then slept on the matter. Citizens needed them proactive. Now after the Second Wave is on its way out, it’s looking for the villain of the piece and apparently Centre’s neck fits the noose. 

To what end? 

Shouldn’t it cross the mind of Supreme Court that Covishield-makers have accused a few CMs of threatening him? That ramping up vaccine involves funds, providing which is as much a responsibility of Centre as of States some of whom prefer spending them on ads instead? That citizens have as much right to know whatever comes out of oxygen audit as they had on the findings of the committee on farmers? 

I do find merit when Supreme Court seeks the roadmap for coming months. How Centre would ensure enough supply to inoculate all by December 31, 2021. How would it distribute. How to prepare for Third Wave. How to guard children. 

Quite a few though is hair-splitting: Rural-urban ratio. Literate-illiterate issue. Registered vs walk-ins. Inter-state migrations. Mechanism for redistribution etc. That’s a judicial overreach, in my humble opinion. 

And Supreme Court expects it all to be put in black-and-white in two weeks by the Centre. This when procuring vaccines is still in works. This when the dynamism of Covid-19 has proved beyond scientists or governments. This when we still haven’t seen the last of its mutants. When the fungus are determined to have each colour in rainbow assigned to its various forms every new day. 

Everyone needs to strengthen Centre’s hands. Not just critics and States but dare I say, the judiciary of the country. Everyone needs be reminded that we have inoculated as many crores as the United States has done in a longer time-span. Everyone must not forget that there are multiple manufacturing labs now being set up to produce vaccines. That oxygen supply is now rock-solid. That everyday we are learning of a new nasal drop, a new vaccine being roped in. That plane-loads of millions of vaccines are landing from abroad. That production of vaccines is doubling up everyday. 

But there is an agenda to pin the Modi government down on vaccination. This industry, everyday, is churning out a new variant of propaganda. Unfortunately, Supreme Court, wittingly or unwittingly, has played into its hands. It has taken a myopic view of vaccination, devoid of any light. And that’s unfair. 

India is emerging out of a nightmare. It hasn’t happened in a natural course. Massive effort has gone, from lockdowns to ramping up oxygen to increasing hospital beds to shore up supply of vaccines etc. Against a faceless enemy, you can't plan too much in advance. That’s the lesson we are learning from the likes of Taiwan and Korea. All you could do is to be on your feet, in combat readiness. 

For India to be ready for Third Wave, to guard its children, you can’t look for a iron-clad December 31 plan. Much could go wrong in next 2-3 months. Prevention is, has always been, gold standard: Keep mask, safe distancing and tracing and testing. Break the chain of transmission. 

And that’s the message needed from the Supreme Court. More to States than to Centre. As of now, it appears pinning the blame on one is a favourite pastime. A narrative has been spun and every thread is being woven to make it thick and thicker. It’s disproportionate. And that’s a cardinal sin in a temple of justice. And that’s my PIL in public space. 

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