Posing tough questions on the vaccine policy, the Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to 'wake up and smell the coffee' as it grilled the government on the dual pricing of vaccines.
A three-judge bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was representing the Centre if it was the policy to let states compete with each other for getting vaccines.
"We are not framing policy. There's an order of 30th April that these are the problems. You will be flexible. You can't just say that you're the Centre and you know what's right. We have a strong arm to come down on this", Justice Chandrachud told Mehta, when he said the Court has limited judicial review power on these policy issues.
"You must smell the coffee and see what is happening across the country", the bench remarked, stressing that the Centre's vaccination policy should not be carved in stone, rather it should evolve based on the ground situation.
The bench also suggested that the Centre must know the ground situation and change its policy accordingly. "If we had to do it, we would have done it 15-20 days back. If we had to do, we would have done so 15 days ago. But we want you to smell the coffee and realise what is happening in the country and make the necessary amendments.", said the bench.
The bench emphasised that the vaccination not reaching the rural population and indicated that 75 per cent of vaccination is being done in urban areas. "With shortage, there is no chance of vaccine going in rural areas," the bench noted.
Justice Chandrachud noted that private hospitals, procuring the vaccines, are not serving the core rural areas, therefore the Centre is merely addressing urban areas. "The policy today does not include vaccination in rural areas, it is a matter of concern," noted the bench.
Justice Chandrachud emphasised the policy cannot be an ad-hoc day-to-day response, instead, there should a plan based on science. "We want the policy to be amended..need enforceable policies for the country. You have to have the policy to deal with these issues. If a new issue comes up then the policy has to address it", said the bench.
Citing technical glitches on CoWIN application used for registration for vaccinations, Justice Bhat said he had received distress calls from all over the country, and added that young people, who had registered for vaccination, visit private hospitals, only to find all slots are booked.
Making it clear that its suggestion on vaccine policy should be taken in the right stride, the bench said "We are not going to run central govt and make policies for you."
On the aspect of vaccine policy, Justice Chandrachud told Mehta that the ability to recognise that `I am wrong` is not a sign of weakness, but that of strength.
He added that 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.
During the top court`s suo motu hearing on Covid-19 crisis management in the country, the Centre informed the top court that it is confident of vaccinating all eligible persons over 18 years, by the year end. Mehta submitted the production from domestic vaccine producers will be enough to vaccinate all who are over 18 years of age.