The Supreme Court Tuesday asked the government to invite suggestions from all stakeholders and experts concerned for a comprehensive response on upgradation of facilities for COVID-19 vaccination of disabled people. A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Sanjiv Khanna said the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment may carry out this exercise within three weeks and then place comprehensive suggestions and proposals which are received before the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The secretary of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) may upon taking a considered view on the suggestions formulated by Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment take appropriate decisions whether any modification or changes are required to make the existing pattern of vaccination for the disabled more effective so as to achieve the purpose, the bench said.
We clarify that the setting up of this framework is not intended to be a reflection on the nature of the work which has already been carried out but intended to further bolster the effort for providing access to the people with disability for vaccination, it added. The apex court listed a PIL, filed by an NGO Evara Foundation’ which sought proper vaccination facilities for the people with disability, after four weeks.
At the outset, the bench noted that pursuant to the order of the court issuing notice, a preliminary affidavit was initially filed by the Centre, which was followed by a more comprehensive affidavit on January 13. During the hearing, advocate Pankaj Sinha, appearing for the NGO, submitted that the affidavit indicated that 23,678 disabled people have been vaccinated and the figure is indicative of low rate of vaccination of the disabled people.
Sinha said he had tried calling helpline numbers to ascertain its efficacy but it had resulted in no proper response and the person who answered the call was unaware of the provisions for vaccination for the disabled and one of the numbers was invalid. He suggested that CoWIN software, which is meant for registration for vaccination should have been certified for accessibility by the domain experts.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati submitted that the figure of 23,678 stated to be in the affidavit of the Centre comprises those people who had utilised their unique identity disability cards for availing of vaccination. She said that as a matter of fact, as many as nine IDs are acceptable for the purpose of vaccination of which disability card is one and hence the figure of 23,678 would not take into account other disabled people who may have used an alternate form of identity for vaccination.
Bhati said that provisions were made initially for near-to-home vaccination centres but since November 2021, the Centre has launched the Har Ghar Dastak Abhiyan to ensure 100 per cent coverage of eligible beneficiaries of vaccination. She added that with the provision of walk-in vaccination, registration on COVID portal has become of subsidiary importance and as far as call centres and helpline numbers are concerned, the staff working there are being duly trained by the state government, so as to give proper responses.
The top court noted that the issue which has been raised by the NGO is not adversarial since it relates to augmenting the support facilities which would ensure that vaccination to the disabled is made available on a seamless basis without inconvenience and preferably at their door steps. It said that individual suggestions have come before the court at the behest of counsel but it is of the view that instead of accepting ad hoc suggestions during the course of hearing, it would be appropriate to devise a framework with the engagement of Ministry of social justice and empowerment particularly Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. The Centre had in its affidavit said that COVID-19 inoculation guidelines issued by the Union Health Ministry do not envisage forcible vaccination without obtaining the consent of an individual.
It had said that India’s vaccination programme is the largest in the world and 90.84 per cent of the eligible adult population has received their first dose of the vaccine and 61 per cent has received their second dose as well. ”Furthermore, a total of 23,768 doses have been administered to disabled persons who have voluntarily chosen to be identified as such by using their Unique Disability ID Card/Disability Certificate for registration at the time of their vaccination,” it has said.
On the issue of exempting persons with disabilities from producing vaccination certificates, the Centre told the apex court that it has not issued any SOP that makes it mandatory to carry the vaccination certificate for any purpose. ”It is submitted that the direction and guidelines released by the Government of India and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare do not envisage any forcible vaccination without obtaining consent of the concerned individual. It is submitted that vaccination for COVID-19 is of larger public interest in view of the ongoing pandemic situation,” the affidavit said.