The Bombay High Court on Wednesday asked the Mumbai civic body if it was possible for it to introduce a door-to-door COVID-19 vaccination programme for senior citizens and disabled persons who are unable to visit inoculation centres. A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni said if the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) was willing to start a door-to-door vaccination programme for these groups, the HC would grant it permission even though the Union government has not given nod for such a drive.
The bench noted that it seems the Union government was not keen on starting a door-to-door vaccination programme. If the BMC says it can start a door-to-door vaccination, we will give it permission. No need to wait for the Central governments nod.
"Will you come to the help of elderly citizens? Even though the Centre is not giving green signal (for door-to-door vaccination) we are willing to give you (BMC) green signal, Chief Justice Datta said. Will the BMC be able to go to the house of those persons, who cannot step out of their houses, and vaccinate them? the court asked.
The court directed BMC Commissioner Iqbal Chahal to file an affidavit on Thursday stating if it would be possible for the civic body to introduce a home-based vaccination drive with proper medical care for senior citizens, disabled persons and those who are bed-ridden or wheelchair-bound. The court said it will hear the matter further on Thursday, noting each day is precious in such times, referring to the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by two advocates, Dhruti Kapadia and Kunal Tiwari. The PIL sought a direction to the Central government to initiate a door-to-door vaccination drive for senior citizens above the age of 75, persons with physical disabilities and those who are bed-ridden or wheelchair-bound.
The HC had earlier asked the Union government to take a relook at its policy that said doorstep vaccination was not possible due to various reasons like wastage of vaccines and non-availability of observation centres for beneficiaries after they are inoculated (for any immediate side effect). On Wednesday, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, appearing for the Union government, told the court that an expert committee has been set up to look into the issue.
The committee had a meeting on May 18 and has submitted a few suggestions like transporting people who are unable to move out of their houses on stretchers to vaccine centres, Singh said. He added that a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) would be issued by the government on the issue.
The court, however, noted that the experts in the committee maybe academicians but they seem to have zero knowledge about ground realities. The bench said there are many places in the country where buildings are situated in narrow lanes and hence it would not be possible to bring out a person on a stretcher.
Chief Justice Datta gave examples of Kolkata, where he was born and brought up, and said the buildings in that city are situated so close to each other that it would not be possible to take a stretcher there. Justice Kulkarni then pointed out there are old buildings with wooden staircases even in Mumbai.
There are many households in our country that are situated in narrow by-lanes and elderly citizens and disabled persons living here may not be able to come out. "Are you (Centre) saying that these persons are not entitled to get the vaccine? How do you (Centre) cater to the needs of such people? the court asked.