Updated: August 27, 2021 5:15:29 am
A RECENT order by the Deputy Commissioner of Manipur’s Bishnupur district, asking all government employees, including teachers, to get themselves vaccinated against Covid-19 by August 31, failing which their salaries will be withheld from next month, was on Thursday challenged in the High Court.
Bishnupur Deputy Commissioner Krishna Kumar’s August 21 order followed two other similar orders, one by the state government and the other by Tamenglong district authority, which pushed vaccination by making it a mandatory condition. Both orders have since been stayed by the Manipur High Court.
Although Kumar told The Indian Express that he has already withdrawn his order, petitioner Osbert Khaling, a lawyer who had challenged the previous two orders in the High Court, said he proceeded with his contempt petition as there has been no notification regarding the withdrawal.
“I have withdrawn my order since. I only issued it in public interest. The idea behind the order was that district government
employees have a lot of public dealings and come in contact with people. In that sense, they can be superspreaders,’’ said Kumar.
He said Bishnupur district has achieved 70 per cent vaccination and his aim was to achieve 85 per cent vaccination by the end of September.
According to vaccination data available on CoWin, 1,48,367 people in the district have been vaccinated till August 25. While 1,23,900 people have taken the first dose, 24,467 people have taken both doses.
Kumar’s order said, “…in view to the increasing threat of the health and well-being of mankind posed by Covid-19 pandemic and the upcoming state assembly election in 2022, it is mandatory for all government employees…, except some exceptional cases [comorbidity and other health issues], to receive Covid vaccination.’’
“In case of non-compliance of this instruction, salary of unvaccinated officials/staff may be put on hold from next month, that is September 2021, till the time they get vaccinated,’’ the order said.
Kumar told The Indian Express: “The reason why I mentioned the state elections, which are due in February-March next year, is because work for it is likely to begin in October. I did not want any government employee to use the excuse of not being vaccinated to keep away from election duty.”
Kumar’s was not the first order pushing for mandatory vaccination in Manipur.
On June 30, Special Secretary Home H Gyan Prakash issued a directive which said that in the course of relaxing the “Covid curfew”, “… it has been considered prudent to prioritise opening of institutions, organisations, factories, shops, markets, private offices etc where its employees and workers are Covid vaccinated. This would apply to NREGA job card holders and workers of government private projects.”
“The notice gives priority to vaccinated people, which is unjust. So, I decided to approach the High Court,’’ said Khaling, who has now challenged Kumar’s petition as well.
Staying the state government directive on July 13, the Manipur High Court said in its order: “… the aforestated prescriptions seem to make vaccination mandatory as they favour those who are vaccinated, not only in terms of prioritizing the opening up of their institutions, organizations, etc., but also by linking vaccination as a condition precedent for employment of NREGA job card holders and workers in government and private projects.’’
While taking into account the government’s desire to increase vaccination for public benefit, the court said that the function of the
government is to dispel myths and encourage vaccination and that “the State cannot seek to impose conditions upon the citizens so as to compel them to get vaccinated, be it by holding out a threat or by putting them at a disadvantage for failing to get vaccinated”.
Despite this order, on August 2, Deputy Commissioner of Tamenglong district, Armstrong Pame, issued a directive, making it mandatory for Fair Price Shop agents to be vaccinated. Those not vaccinated would be “denied permission for distribution of their monthly ration”, the directive said. It also said that renewal of licenses for ration shops would also not be done without submission of vaccination certificates.
According to the directive, Tamenglong had already imposed restriction of movement of people who were not vaccinated or did not have Covid negative reports from entering offices and banks as well as for shop owners.
This order was also stayed by the High Court on August 23. “Such intimidatory measures to compel people to take the vaccination against their will, cannot be sustained,” the court said. “It is for the State to adopt and advocate suitable measures and systems to educate people so that they willingly come forward and avail the facility of vaccination…. the authorities cannot individually come up with their own tactics to pressurize those who are unwilling to take the vaccination to do so under threat,” it said.
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