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Chhattisgarh pauses vaccination after HC order

The Chhattisgarh government postponed the COVID-19 vaccination of those aged between 18 and 44 based on a High Court order. The health department issued a circular to district collectors informing them about the same, as vaccinating under the current policy could be construed as “contempt of court.”

Chhattisgarh government has postponed the vaccination of age group 18-44 till further notice, following the objections of the High Court.  A circular to district collectors on May 5 was issued by the health department informing them about the same, as vaccinating under the current policy could be construed as “contempt of court.”

The Chhattisgarh High Court heard intervention applications filed by politicians and lawyers against the state government’s vaccination policy. One of the interventions was filed by the Janta Congress Chhattisgarh head Amit Jogi, the son of former Chief Minister, late Ajit Jogi. The interventions were filed against the state’s decision to administer the vaccines based on the economic situation of the citizens. The bench of the High Court considered the objections to the state’s vaccination policy and advised the state to make some changes before adjourning the matter to May 7.

The bench consisting of Chief Justice PR Ramachandra Menon and Justice PP Sahu asked the Chhattisgarh Government to reconsider its stance on prioritizing certain socio-economic groups. The bench also questioned the legality of the state government’s plan to tinker with the Centre’s vaccination policy.

“In so far as 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 regarding the ‘financial status’ is illegal, illogical and violative of the constitutional provisions and also the vaccination policy of the Central government,” the petitioners pleaded.

“The entire world is following the concept of triage, to provide vaccines to those who are vulnerable and have comorbidities. The decision of the state government is not only unscientific but also against the constitution,” Amit Jogi said.

Chhattisgarh advocate general Satish Chandra Verma defended the state saying sub-classification was necessary since the members of the Antyodaya group were more vulnerable and less resourceful, therefore meriting special treatment.

The HC agreed with Verma’s contention understanding that poverty, lack of education, access, smartphones, and other resources were likely to make it very difficult for the poor to get their due in vaccine, therefore, asked the state to institute special facilities like ‘help desks’, ‘spot registrations’ to vaccinate them without compromising the other segments’ right to equal treatment concerning the right to life.

“ …We are of the view that the State Government shall fix a reasonable ratio of allotment of vaccines to the Antyodaya group, … the BPL group and the persons… above the poverty line, regarding all the relevant aspects including the vulnerability, chance to spread the disease and the number of eligible persons in the group,” the court order said. It directed the state government to fix the ratio of the vaccine considering the order for equitable distribution in the third phase.

It further added, “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 a step has necessarily to be in conformity with the constitutional mandate and tune with the guidelines issued by the Central Government at the national level. Prima facie, sub-classification about the ‘financial statuses alone as now may not be correct or sustainable.”

The bench also commented that “absolutely no reference has been made (in the circular issued on April 30) therein to ‘policy decision’ (if any) taken by the Government. The policy of the Government has to be based on deliberation in the Cabinet”.

 What is Chhattisgarh’s vaccination policy?

The State Health Department on April 30th issued a circular through Renu G Pillai, Additional Chief Secretary which was then posted with the health department, to all the district collectors, informing them that due to the limited number of vaccines available in the state, vaccination drive would be held in three stages for people between 18-44 years of age. First, the Antyodaya Cardholders (poorest among the poor) are to be vaccinated, followed by the BPL cardholders, and then in the last stage APL cardholders to be vaccinated.

 How many vaccine doses does Chhattisgarh have for the first stage of vaccination?

After repeated calculations and much confusion, the state received 1.5 lakh vaccines on May 1. It distributed 800 doses across blocks and 14 municipalities received 2300 doses each. The state has also ordered 25 lakhs each from Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech each, which it will start getting from May end, officials state.

 How many are to be vaccinated across the state in the 18-44 age group? How many will be vaccinated in the first round?

According to Chief Minister, Bhupesh Baghel, 1.2 crore people, which is 43% of the state population will be vaccinated. However, the state has around 14 lakh Antyodaya cardholders and around 42 lakh other beneficiaries.

 Who are the Antyodaya cardholders

Antyodaya Anna Yojana was a Union government scheme in which “poorest of the poor” were identified and given a yellow ration card, which indicated that they were to be given rice, wheat, and other ration items at heavily subsidized rates. Families with annual income less than Rs 15,000, senior citizens with no support, widows, and unemployed persons all fall in this category.

Pratheeksha Pawaskar

Intern, Goa Chronicle Law student, University of Mysore. Criminal Psychology and Constitutional Law are subjects of my personal interest. More of a “Philomath” (sucker for knowledge) with a great sense of humour. Always standing up for what is right.

DISCLAIMER: This article reflects author’s view point. Goa Chronicle may or may not subscribe to views of the author

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