[COVID-19] Mad HC| Why are you not reviving Govt. Vaccine Institutes and Oxygen Plants? Notice to Govt as India faces vaccine and oxygen shortage

Madras High Court: After the Court was approached seeking mandamus to direct the Government to utilise the Oxygen plants available in BHEL, Trichy, for production of Oxygen to meet the present distress situation and also the services of Integrated Vaccines Complex (IVC), Chengalpattu, for production of vaccines, the bench of MS Ramesh and B Pugalendhi, JJ has issued notice to the Government seeking response as to why the services of aforementioned Oxygen Plant and Integrated Vaccines Complex are not being utilised.

As submitted by the petitioner, BHEL, Trichy, is having the facility of Oxygen production with three Oxygen plants, having capacity of 140 metric cube per hour, but, those plants are shut down since 2003. The same can be brought back to operation within 15 to 20 days, if certain maintenance procedures are carried out.

Further, a dedicated Integrated Vaccine Complex (IVC) has been established at Chengalpattu in the year 2012, with international standards, which is having the capacity to produce 585 million doses, per year.

It has also been submitted that several Members of Parliament have made requests for utilizing the Integrated Vaccines Complex (IVC) in view of the present day COVID situation, for cost effective vaccines and to minimize the demand and supply gap. However, the same has not been utilized even during this pandemic period.

According to the information received from HLL Biotech Limited (HBL) – Integrated Vaccine Complex (IVC), Chengalpattu, under the Right to Information Act, dated 27.04.2020, a revised detailed project report has been submitted for vaccine production and it is under consideration by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Th Court noticed that the Integrated Vaccine Complex (IVC) at Thirukalukundram, Chengalpattu was established to produce life saving and cost effective vaccines primarily to minimize the demand-supply gap and to support the Government in the Universal Immunization program, at an estimated cost of Rs.594/- Crores and it was, in fact, declared as a “Project of National Importance”. But, the reply provided under the Right to Information Act, dated 27.04.2020, reveals that the said complex is yet to start the manufacturing activities.

“Literally speaking, a complex, which is declared as Project of National Importance and established with an estimated cost of around Rs.594/- Crores, is lying idle for the past nine years, since 2012.”

It was further noticed that India is one of the pioneers in the production of vaccine, before COVID and the World’s largest exporter of vaccines. Now, only two private Indian vaccine manufacturers are in the field of producing vaccines for COVID, namely, Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech, which are private enterprises.Though, the vaccine COVAXIN, being developed by Bharat Biotech, is a product of publicly funded research in India.

On the matter of cost and pricing of Vaccines, the Court noticed that Serum Institute of India (COVISHIELD) has quoted Rs.150/- per dose for the Central Government and Rs.300/- per dose for the State Governments and Bharat Biotech (COVAXIN) has quoted Rs.150/- per dose for the Central Government and Rs.600/- per dose for the State Governments. “The population of our Country is approximately 136 Crores and on a simple calculation for procurement of the vaccines to cover all the citizens, the Government has to spend large sums of money.”

The Court, hence, was puzzled as to why the Government was not utilising it’s own vaccine manufacturing institutes. It said,

“This Court is not finding fault with the Government’s action in procuring the vaccines from private enterprises or the deliberations with regard to the fixation of price, but, our anguish is that when the Government itself is having the vaccines manufacturing institutes, such institutes [dying public sector undertakings] may be revived and they may be put into effective use, so that the Government may be in a position to cover all the citizens, besides will not be in a position to bargain with the private institutes at this difficult time.”

The Court, hence, posed the following questions before the Government:

i) Whether Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. [BHEL], Trichy, is having the facility for production of Oxygen with three Oxygen plants, having capacity of 140 metric cube per hour, as claimed by the petitioner?

ii) What are the steps taken by the Government of India pursuant to the letter said to be written by the Member of Parliament (referred supra), dated 26.04.2021?

iii) When the Government of India has supported the reopening of M/s.Vedanta Ltd. (Sterlite Corporations), Tuticorin, for the purpose of production of Oxygen to meet out the exigency, what are all the steps taken by the Government to work out the possibility of production of Oxygen from BHEL, Trichy?

iv) How many Government owned Vaccines Manufacturing Institutes are available in India and the details thereof, including their date of commencement of operation, production capacity and the present status of such Institutes?

v) When was the Integrated Vaccines Complex [IVC], Chengalpattu established, what is the production capacity and the present status?

vi) If the vaccine, COVAXIN, is developed by Bharat Biotech, with the assistance of Indian Council for Medical Research [ICMR] – National Institute of Virology [NIV], why these vaccines are developed only at a private institute, instead of utilizing the services of the existing Government Vaccine Manufacturing Institutes?

vii) The details as to the amount incurred by the Government of India for procuring the vaccines, including COVID vaccine, per year, for the past five years?

viii) When the Government of India is spending huge amount for procuring the vaccines from the private enterprises, what are the steps taken by the Government to revive the existing Vaccine Institutes owned by them?

The Court will now hear the matter on 19.05.2021.

[A. Veronica Mary v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 1789, order dated 06.05.2021]

For petitioner: Advocate R. Alagumani

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