New Delhi: The Centre, in an affidavit, has urged the Supreme Court not to interfere in the vaccination process, which it said is more executive matter than judicial. The government also defended its vaccine policy, which it said, has been designed to ensure equitable distribution.
A soft warning could also be discerned from the Centre's countering against the SC's decision to interfering with the vaccination programme. Calling judicial interference overzealous, the Centre warned about unforeseen and unintended consequences due to judicial pursuance.
The SC was told that the vaccination and its strategy has been drawn from consulting the experts and will be implemented accordingly, thus judicial interference in this pandemic context is unwarranted.
The Centre also tried to protect the interest of vaccine manufacturers by terming the pricing reasonable as well as uniform across the country and which is made only through uniform across the country.
A three-judge bench of the top court, headed by Justice Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrahud, will hear the case today.
"Pricing of vaccines is not only reasonable but uniform across the country (after) government persuasion with two vaccine companies resulted in uniform pricing," the centre said in its affidavit.
The centre further said everyone in the 18-45 age group (whose vaccinations had been delayed till the first week of May) would be vaccinated for free, as states had announced such plans.
The Supreme Court, which last week directed the centre to reconsider vaccine prices - "to ensure it withstands the scrutiny of Articles 14 (equality before law) and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution" - will hear the issue today.
The row over vaccine prices was after manufacturers Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech announced vastly different prices for the centre, state governments and private hospitals.
While the centre continues to spend only ₹ 150 per dose of either Serum Institute's Covishield or Bharat Biotech's Covaxin, states must pay ₹ 400 per dose for Covaxin and private hospitals ₹ 1,200. Covishield costs ₹ 300 per dose for states and ₹ 600 for private hospitals.
The vast difference in prices also triggered a political storm, with the Congress accusing the centre of "vaccine profiteering" and sarcastically reminding it of the "one nation, one price" war cry.
Last week the Supreme Court said compelling states to negotiate with manufacturers, on grounds of promoting competition and making it attractive for new manufacturers, would adversely affect those in the 18-44 age group, whose vaccination has only just begun.
"Whether or not essential vaccines will be available to them will depend upon the decision of each state, based on its finances... This will create disparity across the nation. The vaccinations being provided to citizens constitute a valuable public good," the court added.
During the first hearing on this matter, held last month, the court had said: "During the national crisis, Supreme Court cannot be a mute spectator. The role of the court is complimentary."
India began its vaccination drive in January and has administered nearly 17 crore doses so far but the pace has been questioned, with states running out of stock and shutting down centres.