“You keep on saying digital India, digital India but the situation is actually different in rural areas,” the Supreme Court told the Union government.

Beneficiaries wait to receive the COVID-19 vaccine dose at a vaccination camp at Vetoornimadam Saint Alozhious school in Kanyakumari Saturday May 29 2021Queue at vaccination centre (PTI)
news Court Monday, May 31, 2021 - 14:34

The Supreme Court Monday posed searching questions to the Union government on the COVID-19 vaccine procurement policy and the need for mandatory registration on the CoWIN portal for people to get vaccinated without keeping in mind the real 'digital India' situation. The court observed that the policy makers must have an ear to the ground. A special bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, LN Rao and S Ravindra Bhat asked the Union government how it is going to address the issue of digital divide facing the country since it has made CoWIN registration mandatory for vaccination.

“You keep on saying the situation is dynamic but policy makers must have their ears on ground. You keep on saying digital India, digital India but the situation is actually different in rural areas. How will an illiterate labourer, from Jharkhand get registered in Rajasthan? Tell us how you will address this digital divide,” the bench sought to know from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta. It said, “Please wake up and smell the coffee and see what is happening across the country. You must know the ground situation and change the policy accordingly. If we had to do it, we would have done it 15-20 days ago.”

SG Tushar Mehta replied that registration is mandatory as a person needs to be traced for a second dose and as far as rural areas there are community centres where a person can get registered for vaccination. The bench questioned Mehta whether the government thinks that this process is viable and asked him to place the policy document on record. 

The top court was hearing a suo motu case on management of COVID situation in the country. At the outset, it asked the Union government about its vaccine procurement policy by referring to the fact that states like Punjab and Delhi are in the process of issuing global tenders to procure foreign vaccines for COVID-19. The bench said that even Municipal Corporation like Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has received bids.

“Is this the policy of the central government that the state or municipal corporation can procure the vaccine or the Union Government is going to procure for them like a nodal agency? We want clarity on this and rationale behind this policy,” the bench said. 

During the hearing, the Union government also told the Supreme Court that the entire eligible population would be vaccinated by the end of 2021. The government also said that it is in talks with companies like Pfizer and if it succeeds then the timeline for completing the vaccination would change.

Earlier, the top court had constituted a 12-member National Task Force to formulate a methodology for the scientific allocation of oxygen to states and UTs for saving lives of COVID-19 patients and to facilitate a public health response to the pandemic.

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