Updated: May 11, 2021 10:51:22 am
The Supreme Court will take up the Centre’s affidavit on vaccine policy and pricing for hearing on May 13.
A Bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat which sat to hear the matter on Monday via video conferencing could not proceed beyond a few minutes due to technical snags.
The Indian Express reported on Monday that the Centre had, in an affidavit filed late on Sunday, told the court that its vaccination policy had been framed with equitable distribution with limited availability, vulnerability, and the fact that vaccinating the entire country was not possible in one go, “as the prime consideration”.
The policy was “just, equitable, non-discriminatory and based upon an intelligible differentiating factor between the two age groups (45 plus and those below)”, it had said.
The Centre also urged the court to trust the wisdom of the executive, which it said needed discretion to formulate policies in the larger interest.
As proceedings began on Monday, Justice Chandrachud said although he had got the affidavit late on Sunday night and the other judges had got it on Monday morning, things had been easy as he had read the report in The Indian Express, which “had it before us”.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who appeared for the Centre, tendered an apology.
The Centre also told the Court that it was “actively engaging itself with global organisations at a diplomatic level to find out a solution” to the surge in demand for vaccines and drugs to fight Covid-19 “in the best possible interest of India”.
As such, “any discussion or a mention of exercise of statutory powers” for granting compulsory licenses for their manufacture “can only prove to be counter-productive at this stage”, it said.
“When there is a surge in cases and in demand of patented medicines/drugs/vaccines from all over the world the solution needs to be found out essentially at an executive level engaging at diplomatic levels. Any exercise of statutory powers either under the Patents Act 1970 read with TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement and Doha Declaration or in any other way can only prove to be counter-productive at this stage…”, and “would have serious, severe and unintended adverse consequences in the country’s efforts being made on global platform using all its resources, good-will and good-offices though diplomatic and other channels”, it said.
Hearing the matter on April 30, the SC had sought to know whether the Centre intended to consider invoking powers under the Patents Act, 1979, to grant compulsory licences to enable more manufacturers to make the vaccines and essential drugs like remdesivir.
The government also sought to explain how the new “Liberalized Pricing and Accelerated National Covid-19 Vaccination Strategy” which kicked in on May 1, “would further ramp up the pace of COVID-19 vaccination”. It said the “differential pricing is based on the concept of creating an incentivised demand for the private vaccine manufacturers in order to instil a competitive market resulting in higher production of vaccines and market driven affordable prices for the same. This will also attract offshore vaccine manufacturers to enter the country.”
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