Prioritising vaccine based on professional discriminatory: Centre tells SC

Prioritising vaccine based on professional discriminatory: Centre tells SC

It said the vaccine, which is already being produced beyond the manpower and infrastructural capacity, is also being exported in view of the global pandemic.

The Centre on Monday opposed a petition filed before the Supreme Court seeking priority Covid-19 vaccination for judges, court staff, lawyers and their staff.

Filing an affidavit, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare told the court that it would not be desirable to create a separate class consisting of lawyers and judges as it could be discriminatory towards persons engaged in other trades or professions.

It said the vaccine, which is already being produced beyond the manpower and infrastructural capacity, is also being exported in view of the global pandemic.

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A bench of Chief Justice Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said that it would consider the plea, seeking inclusion of judges, judicial staff and lawyers in the priority category for the COVID-19 vaccine, on March 18.

During the hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the government reply has been filed.

The affidavit said that lawyers and staff who are above 60 years of age or are above 45-year-old with comorbidities are anyway covered by the ongoing vaccination drive.

“It may not be desirable to create a separate class consisting of lawyers and others below 45 years of age discriminating persons engaged in other trade, profession or business and working under similar geographic conditions and circumstances,” the affidavit said.

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Senior advocates Harish Salve, appearing for Serum Institute of India, and Mukul Rohatgi, representing Bharat Biotech, said that different High Courts are seeking data as how many vaccines are being produced and when will it be given to all.

Rohatgi said this was a very important matter and they have filed a petition seeking transfer of all cases before the High Courts to the top court.

The bench then said it will take up the transfer petition along with the PIL seeking fixing of priority of judges, lawyers and court staff for COVID-19 vaccine on March 18.

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Salve said the Delhi High Court and the Bombay High Court are hearing different petitions and seeking data from them.

Rohatgi said that the Delhi High Court is asking how much vaccine will be produced and who will it be given to.

"Please see that it's a larger issue and needs to be decided once and for all by your lordship", Salve said, as the bench adjourned the matter for further hearing on March 18.

The Centre in its affidavit said: "It may not be desirable to create a separate class consisting of lawyers and others below 45 years of age and discriminating persons engaged in other trade, profession or business and working under similar geographic conditions and circumstances as such a classification would necessarily lead to discrimination."

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"As there are several other trade, business or profession who directly deal with the health, help and assist a common-man to provide his day-to-day requirements and are working in a small space with a large number. Thus it may not be appropriate to discriminate them as against a separate class of lawyers as both are doing their respective duties towards the citizens under similar circumstances."

The government said that from the facts it is clear that the classification of citizens is based upon most rational and non-arbitrary criteria and thus any specific classification either based upon the nature of trade, profession or otherwise is neither possible nor advisable.

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