Keep ear to ground: SC slams Centre on App-driven vaccination in rural areas

In pointed questions, SC asks Centre how it would bridge the digital divide and also if civic bodies are free to buy vaccines

You keep on saying digital India, but the situation is actually different in rural areas, SC says during the hearing. File Photo

The Supreme Court on Monday (May 31) posed searching questions to the Centre on the COVID-19 vaccine procurement policy and the need for mandatory registration on the CoWIN app for people to get vaccinated without keeping in mind the real “digital India” situation, observing that the policy makers must have an ear to the ground.

A special bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, LN Rao and S Ravindrabhat said that since the Centre has made CoWIN registration mandatory for vaccination, asking how it is going to address the issue of digital divide facing the country, reports PTI.

“You keep on saying the situation is dynamic, but policymakers must have their ears to the ground. You keep on saying digital India, digital India but the situation is actually different in rural areas. How will an illiterate labourer from Jharkhand get registered in Rajasthan? Tell us how you will address this digital divide,” the bench sought to know from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

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It said, “You must smell the coffee and see what is happening across the country. You must know the ground situation and change the policy accordingly. If we had to do it, we would have done it 15-20 days back”.

Mehta replied that registration is mandatory as a person needs to be traced for a second dose and as far as rural areas are concerned, there are community centres where a person can get registered for vaccination.

The bench questioned Mehta whether the government thinks that this process is viable and asked him to place the policy document on record.

The top court was hearing a suo motu case on management of COVID situation in the country.

Also read: COVID vaccination for 18+ from May 1, states can buy directly from pharma cos

At the outset, it asked the Centre about the vaccine procurement policy of the Centre by referring to the fact that states like Punjab and Delhi are in the process of issuing global tenders to procure foreign vaccines for COVID-19.

The bench said that municipal corporations, such as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), has received bids.

“Is this the policy of the Central government that the state or municipal corporation can procure the vaccine or the Union government is going to procure for them like a nodal agency? We want clarity on this and rationale behind this policy,” the bench said.

In the meantime, the Centre said the entire eligible population would be vaccinated by the end of this year. The government is in talks with companies like Pfizer and if it succeeds, then timeline for completing the vaccination would change, the law officer said.

Earlier, the top court had constituted a 12-member National Task Force to formulate a methodology for the scientific allocation of oxygen to states and UTs for saving lives of COVID patients and to facilitate a public health response to the pandemic.

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