Explain how Rs 35,000 crore budget marked for procuring vaccines is being used: SC tells Centre

Express News Service
NEW DELHI: Coming down heavily on the Centre for its ‘arbitrary vaccination policy’, the Supreme Court has asked the government to clarify how the sum of Rs 35,000 crore marked in the Union Budget for procuring vaccines has been spent so far. It also asked why these funds cannot be used for giving free shots to those between 18 and 44.

“The Budget had earmarked Rs 35,000 crores for procuring vaccines. In light of the Liberalized Vaccination Policy, the Central Government is directed to clarify how these funds have been spent so far and why they cannot be utilised for vaccinating persons aged 18-44 years,” read the 32-page order passed by a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhatt.

Raising questions on the competitive pricing of vaccines, the judges said: “The justification for this policy has been adduced in a bid to spur competition which would attract more private manufacturers that could eventually drive down prices. Prima facie, the only room for negotiation with the two vaccine manufacturers was on price and quantity, both of which have been pre-fixed by the Central Government.

This casts serious doubts on Centre’s justification for enabling higher prices as a competitive measure. Furthermore, the Central Government justifying its lower prices on account of its ability to place large purchase orders for vaccines raises the issue as to why this rationale is not being employed for acquiring 100 per cent of the monthly CDL doses.

“If the Central Government’s unique monopolistic buyer position is the only reason for it receiving vaccines at a much lower rate from manufacturers, it is important for us to examine the rationality of the existing Liberalized Vaccination Policy against Article 14 of the Constitution, since it could place severe burdens, particularly on States/UTs suffering from financial distress.”

The Supreme Court further directed the Union government to respond to the observations made by the three-judge bench by filing a fresh affidavit with all relevant documents and file notings reflecting the thinking of the Centre on the vaccination policy.