Chhattisgarh High Court: A Division Bench of P.R. Ramchandra Menon and Parth Prateem Sahu JJ. laid down noteworthy observations regarding equitable allotment of vaccines to the ‘Antyodaya Group’, the persons belonging to the ‘Below Poverty Line’ and the persons belonging to the ‘Above Poverty Line’
The instant PIL was registered suo moto by the Court regarding the conditions in the Jails amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. An Order/Circular dated 30.04.2021 was issued by the Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Chhattisgarh, Health and Family Welfare Department, stating that the third phase vaccination will be given firstly to the Antyodaya Card Holders i.e. poorest among the poor, secondly to the people belonging to the group ‘Below Poverty Line’ and thirdly to the people belonging to the ‘Above Poverty Line’. Hence instant writ petition was filed seeking immediate intervention as the restriction done by making a sub-classification without any power or competence for the State Government in this regard and contrary to the norms/guidelines issued by the Central Government in terms of the guidelines fixed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) amounts to infringement of the various constitutional provisions and encroachment into some provisions of such other relevant statute such as the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Observations regarding conditions of accused in jails
- A total number of 1526 prisoners have been released from 33 Jails/Sub-Jails of the State, decongesting the Jails to a large extent vide order which is being extended from time to time.
- The Court directed the State to examine whether it would not be appropriate for the Government to set up Covid-19 centers/isolated space in the Jail itself; particularly in the Central Jails and such other Jails where large number of prisoners are accommodated so that if at all anybody in the Jail gets tested positive, they could be shifted to such isolated Covid centers within the Jail itself for providing proper medical and nursing care without any chance for spreading the disease.
- Directions are given regarding conducting RTPCR tests of the prisoners who were surrendering after completion of the parole.
Vaccination in accordance with ‘sub classification’
Counsel for the petitioners submitted that the vaccination is the only life saving measure against Covid-19 and since the “right to life” is common to any citizen, denial of vaccine to some groups, fixing a priority with reference to the ‘financial status’ is absolutely illegal, illogical and violative of the constitutional provisions and also the vaccination policy of the Central Government. Since the policy has been declared in crystal clear terms by the Central Government that the benefit of the third phase vaccination is available to all persons (above 18 years and below 45 years of age), there is no object or nexus in the sub classification and that there is no intelligible differentia to sustain the course of action.
Counsel for the State submitted that since only limited quantity of vaccines are available for the third phase of vaccination, a sub-classification was felt necessary, particularly since the Antyodaya Group who are residing mostly in the remote areas and who are rather illiterate or not knowing anything much about the Covid-19 pandemic, symptoms, complications, necessity to register in the portal and as to the infrastructure, are moving around quite freely which spreads the disease much faster. Case is almost similar in the case of Below Poverty Line group as well and hence, there is a rationale in the sub-classification of persons in the age group of 18 to 44.
The Court observed that the instant petition has challenged the circular on grounds of legality of the sub-classification made in it, merely with reference to the economic status of a citizen.
The Court observed that supply of vaccines has to be made on ‘first come first served’ basis and such an approach may not be appropriate for poor/rural sector i.e. Antyodaya and Below Poverty Line groups due to lack of education, poverty, lack of any smart phones to effect registration in portals, the remoteness of the area where they are living, the lack of access/conveyance, the limited infrastructure available in the place of their living and also the internet connectivity. Thus, if any steps are taken by the State Government to have the benefit extended to such people as well, the object cannot be doubted. But, such step has necessarily to be in conformity with the constitutional mandate and in tune with the guidelines issued by the Central Government at the national level. Prima facie, sub-classification with reference to the ‘financial status’ alone is not correct or sustainable.
The Court further observed that in the scheme in question, the ‘priority’ was fixed by the Central Government as per the guidelines/policy already declared as during the the first wave, the ‘frontline workers’ like the Doctors, Nurses and other ‘Corona Warriors’ who were having direct contact with the patients have been rightly included in the top priority group. The next phase was for persons above 60 years and for persons with co-morbidities. The cut off age of 60 was subsequently reduced to 45. Now, under the third phase stage (for the persons between the age of 18 to 44) no distinction is made and as per the policy all such persons have been treated as a common lot.
The Court thus held that a Scheme has to be formulated by the State by earmarking appropriate share of the vaccines to them as well and set up ‘Help Desks’ providing spot registration and to administer vaccines to them, without compromising the right of the other segments who are entitled to have equal treatment with regard to the right to life.
The Court further held
“State Government shall fix a reasonable ratio of allotment of vaccines to the ‘Antyodaya Group’, the persons belonging to the ‘Below Poverty Line’ and the persons belonging to the ‘Above Poverty Line’, with reference to all the relevant aspects including the vulnerability, chance to spread the disease and the number of eligible persons in the group.”
[Suo Moto WP (PIL) v. State of Chhattisgarh, 2021 SCC OnLine Chh 987, decided on 04-05-2020]
Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this report together
Amicus Curiae: Mr. Prafull N Bharat
Advocate for the State/Respondents 1 to 3: Mr. Satish Chandra Verma, Mr. Chandresh Shrivastava, and Mr. Vikram Sharma
Advocate for Respondent 4. Mr. Ramakant Mishra,
Advocate for Respondent 7: Mr. Abhishek Sinha,
Advocate for Respondent 9: Mr. Ashish Shrivastava
Advocates for the respective Interveners: Mr. Kishore Bhaduri, Mr. Sandeep Dubey, Mr. Palash Tiwari, Mr. Devershi Thakur, Mr. Shri Goutam Khetrapal, Mr. Shivang Dubey, Mr. Raj Bahadur Singh, Mr. Rishi Rahul Soni, Mr. Shakti Raj Sinha, Mr. Sameer Singh, Mr. Atul Kesharwani, Mr. Rohitashva Singh, Mr. Virendra Verma, Mr. Nishi Kant Sinha, Mr. Curtis Collins, Mr. Ansul Tiwari, Mr. Soumitra Kesharwani, Mr. Anumeh Shrivastava, Mr. Himanshu Choubey, Intervenor in Person.