Supreme Court to Modi govt: Smell the coffee on Covid situation


Judges at India’s Supreme Court have told the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that it must “smell the coffee” on the Covid-19 pandemic situation in the country.

At the same hearing on Monday, the government told the top court that it was confident of vaccinating everyone above 18 years of age by the end of the year.

A three-judge bench of the court grilled the government over its vaccine policy.

India rolled out its vaccination program relatively early but since the Prime Minister in a television address opened up vaccines for everyone above 18 years of age, getting a vaccine has become a game of privilege and patience.

You must smell the coffee and see what is happening across the country,” a bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the government.

The court stressed that government’s vaccination policy should not be carved in stone, rather it should evolve based on the ground situation. The bench suggested that the government must know the ground situation and change its policy accordingly.

If we had to do it, we would have done it 15-20 days back. If we had to do, we would have done so 15 days ago. But we want you to smell the coffee and realize what is happening in the country and make the necessary amendments,” said the bench.

The bench emphasized that vaccines were not reaching the rural population and indicated that 75 percent of the vaccination is being done in urban areas. “With shortage there is no chance of vaccine going in rural areas,” the bench noted.

Justice Chandrachud noted that private hospitals procuring the vaccines are not serving the core rural areas, therefore the government is merely addressing urban areas.

The policy today does not include vaccination in rural areas, it is a matter of concern,” noted the bench.

Justice Chandrachud emphasized the policy cannot be ad-hoc day-to-day response, instead there should a plan based on science.

We want the policy to be amended… need enforceable policies for the country. You have to have a policy to deal with these issues. If a new issue comes up then policy has to address it,” said the bench.

Citing technical glitches on the CoWIN application used for registration for vaccinations, Justice Bhat said he had received distress calls from all over the country.

Young people who registered for vaccination visit private hospitals, only to find all slots are booked, he said.

Making it clear that its suggestion on vaccine policy should be taken in the right stride, the bench said: “We are not going to run the central government and make policies for you.”

On the vaccine policy, Justice Chandrachud told Mehta that the ability to recognize that “I am wrong” is not a sign of weakness, but that of strength.

“The idea is not to criticize, but to strengthen the arms of the government,” Justice Chandrachud said. “The fact that MEA [minister of external affairs] went abroad, had dialogue [on vaccines] shows the seriousness of the situation.”

During the top court’s suo motu hearing on Covid-19 crisis management in the country, the government said that it was confident of vaccinating all eligible persons over 18 years of age by the yearend.

Mehta submitted that the production from domestic vaccine producers will be enough to vaccinate all who are over 18 years of age. 


(Image on top: File photograph of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi getting vaccinated against Covid-19)