In its affidavit to the Supreme Court, the Center said that its vaccination policy had been framed to ensure equitable distribution and that there was “little room for judicial interference” in these matters at the time of a pandemic.
In an affidavit submitted on Sunday night, the Centre maintained that the vaccination drive for those between 18 and 44 was approved after requests by states and that the Centre persuaded manufacturers to supply vaccines to states at uniform prices.
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 said.
The policy requires “no interference by this Hon’ble Court as while dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude, the Executive does have a room for free play in the joints public interest”, it said.
The development came after the Supreme Court last week directed the Centre to revisit its COVID-19 vaccine pricing policy, saying it would prima facie result in a detriment to the right to public health.
A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud had said as of date, the manufacturers have suggested two different prices, a lower price which is applicable to the Centre and a higher price which is applicable to the quantities purchased by state governments.
The apex court said that compelling state governments to negotiate with manufacturers on grounds of promoting competition and making it attractive for new vaccine manufacturers will result in a serious detriment to those in the age group of 18 to 44 years, who will be vaccinated by state governments.
The social strata of this age group also comprises persons who are Bahujans or belong to other underprivileged and marginalised groups, like many in the other population age groups. They may not have the ability to pay.
“Whether or not essential vaccines will be made available to them will depend upon the decision of each state government, based on its own finances, on whether or not the vaccine should be made available free or should be subsidised and if so, to what extent. This will create disparity across the nation. The vaccinations being provided to citizens constitute a valuable public good," the bench said.
The bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat said, discrimination cannot be made between different classes of citizens who are similarly circumstanced on the ground that while the Central government will carry the burden of providing free vaccines for the 45 years and above population, state governments will discharge the responsibility of the 18 to 44 age group on such commercial terms as they may negotiate.
“Prima facie, the rational method of proceeding in a manner consistent with the right to life (which includes the right to health) under Article 21 would be for the Central Government to procure all vaccines and to negotiate the price with vaccine manufacturers," the court had said.
The directions were passed in a suo motu case for ensuring essential supplies and services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bench has taken up issues such as the projected demand for oxygen in the country at present and in the near future, how the government intends to allocate it to “critically affected" states and its monitoring mechanism to ensure supply.
The Supreme Court had earlier made clear that any attempt to clamp down on the free flow of information on social media, including a call for help from people, would be treated as contempt of the court.