New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said that if orders passed by the States mandating COVID-19 vaccinations are not proportional to personal liberty, then it would examine them.
The Centre told the top court that being a constitutional court it should take into account the attempts of vested interest groups, which may result in vaccine hesitancy, which the nation has come out with much difficulty.
A bench of Justices LN Rao and BR Gavi asked the petitioner to array the States, who have issued such orders as a party, and challenge those orders while clarifying that they also need to be heard if their orders are challenged.
The bench said, If the orders passed by State mandating vaccination are not proportional to personal liberty we will go into it. We cannot pass any direction in general .
During the hearing, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner Jacob Puliyel, said that now that issue has become more serious as States like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have issued orders that those who are not vaccinated cannot come out of their houses.
He said that the Delhi government has issued an order that no government servant, who is not fully vaccinated, will be permitted to work and will be treated as if he is on leave with pay.
Bhushan said that the Centre has filed its affidavit in the matter but it was served late.
The bench said it has not read it as it is yet to receive it.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Centre, apologised for the delay and said that the affidavit was finalised late in the night.
When Bhushan referred to the orders passed by Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Delhi, the bench said that the petitioner needs to challenge these individual orders and make the States party to the petition saying that only then it can examine them.
Bhushan said that every day new orders are passed by the State governments and he will have to keep on adding those States as parties.
He said that the Centre has said in its affidavit that at this stage the government has not mandated COVID vaccines and it is being administered voluntarily.
Mehta said, this court is a constitutional court and it must consider the attempts made by vested interest groups, which may result in vaccine hesitancy, which the nation has come out with great difficulty. Crores of people have been vaccinated not only in India but across the world .
He said that with the top court even expressing its view orally will have a severe adverse effect on the vaccination programme.
The bench said that at the time of issuing notice in the matter, this court had clarified that it would not encourage vaccine hesitancy in the country but agreed to examine the plea as the concerns raised by the petitioner also appeared to be genuine.
Bharat Biotech was represented by advocate Vipin Nair.
On August 9, the top court had asked the Centre, Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute of India (SII), and others to respond to a plea seeking directions for disclosure of data on clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines as also on post-jab cases.
We are fighting vaccine hesitancy in this country. The WHO says one of the major problems in the world is vaccine hesitancy. If we launch an investigation into this, would it not be throwing doubts in the minds of people, it had observed.
Bhushan had then said petitioner is not an anti-vaccine petition but transparency on the issue was needed as disclosure of data would rather clear all the doubts and hesitancy.
He, while making it clear that the petitioner was not seeking to stop the ongoing vaccination, said the plea has also raised the issue of coercive vaccine mandates being issued like putting certain restrictions on travel if someone is not vaccinated.
The Centre in its affidavit said that this petition is filed purportedly as a Public Interest Litigation and if entertained, would harm the public interest.
It said, Any misgivings and misconceived doubts and motivated propaganda against vaccination can only result in a potential threat of setting vaccine hesitancy again, which will not be in the public interest. Once it is placed before this Court that -there is a statutory regime in place and the regime is followed–this Court, may not undertake the exercise any further as it would enable the petitioner and a handful of others like him to create serious misgivings and misconceived doubts against the vaccination in the process of this petition itself .
The government added that the year 2020 and 2021 witnessed one of the most severe tragedies engulfing not only India but the entire human kind, threatening virtually the existence of the human race.
It has posed unprecedented challenges before the human race. Every country started their own earnest efforts to deal with this pandemic called COVID-19. All human efforts throughout the world were concentrated towards tackling this pandemic and also attempting to prevent it , it said.
The Centre further said that the Petitioner is fully aware of the facts but has chosen to give a false picture before this court for the reasons best known to him.
In the process, however, he has raised a false alarm and warning against efforts of the nation to combat an unprecedented tragedy faced by the human race. Such an attempt is to be viewed very seriously at a time when the Central Government, all State Governments and Union Territories are individually and collectively making all possible efforts to vaccinate every individual , it said.