The Supreme Court on Thursday orally observed that the concerns of the legal fraternity regarding priority for COVID-19 vaccination were genuine, which require consideration. The Chief Justice of India SA Bobde told the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that advocates can only earn livelihood only if they contact people. They need assurance that they will not die if they come into contact with people. The bench, also including Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, was considering the transfer petitions filed by vaccine manufacturers Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India seeking to withdraw to the SC the suo moto case taken by the Delhi HC on vaccine priority for the legal fraternity.
While Senior Advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Harish Salve, appearing for Bharat Biotech and SII, respectively, took exception to the HC asking the companies to reveal their production capacities. The advocates' claims are coming out because they have to contact people to earn their livelihood, and it is a genuine concern for advocates, the CJI said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who also supported the pharma companies' plea for transfer, said that many other categories of persons also need to contact people to earn a livelihood. The SG added that tomorrow journalists might come with such a demand, followed by other professions such as bank employees.
"We don't know how journalists work. But we don't think a journalist has to come into contact with people. Advocates find it very difficult not to meet people," CJI replied.
The SG said that there is no point in giving examples and counter-examples. The SG explained that the expert committee had formulated the vaccination criteria by following global standards. As per global norms, priority is given to health workers and frontline workers(such as police, municipal worker, sweepers). Next, persons aged above 60 years and persons in the age bracket of 45-60 with comorbidities are given vaccines regarding the mortality risk, the SG explained. He also said that it would be difficult to consider competing claims raised by different professional groups seeking vaccination priority. The CJI repeatedly asked if the expert committee can also consider the concerns of the lawyers.
After a brief exchange, the SG agreed that he would place the representations concerning the legal fraternity before the expert committee, which will decide in the next 2-3 days. The CJI also commented that India's Government has "distinguished" itself by leading the supply of vaccines worldwide.
"We have no doubt that India is leading in it and doing a great job, and the government has distinguished itself by leading the supply of vaccines to smaller countries", the CJI said.
After the hearing, the bench issued a notice on the pharma companies' transfer petitions and stayed the suo moto proceedings in the Delhi High Court.
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