The Central government on Monday faced several tough questions about its COVID-19 vaccination policy from a three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court of India. A 3-Judge Bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao, and S Ravindra Bhat asked questions to the Central Government on the rationale of the dual pricing and procurement policy of COVID-19 vaccines.

Justice Chandrachud raised the issue as to whether 50% of the population between the age of 18 to 45 would even be able to afford the vaccines and noted that in order to alleviate such a divide, a uniform policy for both procurement and distribution had to be established.

The Centre has been given two weeks to respond to these issues and concerns. The apex court said that it was upon the Centre to procure the vaccines for the whole country.

The Bench sought for the vaccination policy and directed the Centre to explain the rationale behind adopting the dual policy. It further questioned the rationale for the Centre procuring vaccines for those above the age of 45 and leaving the 18 to 45 age group.

It stated that data last week showed that nearly 50% of the COVID-19 cases between May 1 and May 24 were from the 18-40 group, from 49.70% between May 1 and May 7 to 47.84% between May 22-24.

The court also asked why states had to pay more for the vaccines than the Centre. "Why has the government left it to manufacturers to fix the price of vaccines? Centre has to take over the responsibility of one price for the nation," the court stressed.

Under the Centre's new 'liberalised' policy, which came into effect May 1, states can buy up to 50% of their vaccine needs from manufacturers, although at higher prices than that fixed for the Centre. Private hospitals have to pay even higher prices.

The court also grilled the Central government over the 'digital divide', pointing out that requiring people to register on CoWIN would hamper vaccination efforts in rural areas, where access to the internet is unreliable.

"Everyone has to register on CoWIN (but) the digital divide. Is it realistically possible to expect (people) from rural areas to register on COWIN?" the court had asked.

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