The Supreme Court on Monday said it does not want any vaccine hesitancy, but it will hear concerns raised in connection with vaccine mandates.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing petitioner Jacob Puliyel, vehemently argued that vaccine mandates have been issued by various state governments. He said in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, a person literally cannot come out of their homes if not vaccinated, and those unvaccinated will not get ration in Madhya Pradesh.
In Delhi, government officers cannot come to office unvaccinated and other states also have restrictions.
A bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai asked Bhushan to challenge these mandates individually. He pointed out that the Centre, in an RTI reply, said there is no mandate for vaccine.
The bench told Bhushan that it cannot hear the matter now, as it did not receive the Centre’s affidavit, which was filed late in the evening on Sunday, in time. It said that if he intends to challenge the mandates, then he can file an application, and the court will consider it.
Justice Gavai queried Bhushan: “If you’re challenging a state government mandate, shouldn’t the state be heard? We follow a federal structure. Can we set aside mandate issued by a state without hearing them?”
The bench told Bhushan to bring those orders on record.
Bhushan contended that US court of appeals has struck down vaccine mandates where private employers were directed to ensure mandatory vaccination. He added that the Meghalaya High Court has also said that authorities cannot stop anybody from opening of shops etc.
As this, the bench said: “If orders are passed like this, then you have to challenge those orders. We agree with you that if the vaccine mandates are not proportionate to personal liberty, we will go into it.”
However, the bench refrained from passing any general order.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted that any attempt by a vested interest group, which will result in vaccine hesitancy should be avoided.
He said crores of people around the globe are protecting themselves through vaccines, and “now we are faced with this minority of people who are objecting”.
As he submitted that even oral observations will have severe adverse effects, the bench replied: “All we have said is bring some specific instances. In abstract we can’t hear anything.”
The bench made it clear that it does not want there to be any vaccine hesitancy, but Bhushan’s concerns have to be heard. It has scheduled the matter for further hearing on December 13.
The top court is hearing a plea filed by Puliyel, a former member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, seeking transparency in clinical trial data for the vaccines being administered in India under emergency use authorisation and also a stay on the vaccine mandates, which is being issued by various state governments.