The Bombay High Court on Wednesday told the central government that it should conduct a “surgical strike” on Covid-19, a “bigger enemy”, and provide door-to-door vaccination to the needy, elderly and specially-abled persons who cannot visit vaccination centers.
The Court asked the Centre why the ‘door-to-door’ policy for needy persons, as started in other states and Union Territories including Kerala, Bihar, Odisha and Jammu and Kashmir, could not be adopted in Maharashtra, and why the Centre did not have a ‘national policy’ for the same instead of current initiative of ‘near-to-door vaccination’ for such persons.
The bench also sought to know whether the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) or the state government enabled a ‘senior politician’ to receive the second vaccine dose at his home in Mumbai in April, and said it had raised questions since the first few hearings of the PIL seeking ‘door-to-door’ vaccination in the state.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing a PIL filed by city-based lawyers Dhruti Kapadia and Kunal Tiwari, seeking directions to the Centre, the Maharashtra government and the BMC to provide a door-to-door vaccination facility for people over 75 years of age, the specially-abled and the bed-ridden.
On Tuesday, the HC had appreciated the central government’s decision of “near to home” Covid-19 vaccination centres for elderly and differently-abled persons but asked it to consider further measures to remove the difficulties and risks, cited by it, for initiating ‘door-to-door’ inoculation of the needy.
On Wednesday, petitioners submitted details pertaining to ‘door-to-door vaccination’ initiatives by various civic and state authorities, including Kerala state health department’s May 31 decision for ‘Covid-19 vaccination of bedridden patients above 45 years of age’.
“You (Centre) will admit Covid-19 is a bigger enemy and we have to strike it down. This enemy resides in certain persons who cannot come out. Your approach should be like a surgical strike. While surgical strike is required, you are assembling forces near borders and not entering into enemy territory. You are waiting. You are taking decisions for public benefit, but it seems they are delayed. Decisions if taken earlier could have saved many lives, ” CJ Datta told Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh representing the central government.
The bench went on to orally remark, “See how Kerala and other states are handling the problem. If there are no adverse consequences, why should it not be encouraged for other states as well? Other States have gone ahead with door-to-door drives, but the Central government hasn’t taken this into consideration. You should understand the sentiments of families of such persons and current black fungus spread.”
The HC said, “How do you (Centre) tackle such a situation? Door-to-door is the best possibility for vaccination. BMC has said that it is ready but waiting for your approval. You cannot clip the wings of authorities. If there is national policy, it applies to every state. Kerala, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Orissa have already done it. Then what is the issue?”
ASG Singh submitted that the Centre is coming up with new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for vaccination for the needy in this week and it will be a national policy.
Let us know your (Centre) response during the next hearing. We trust the government and it can come up with sound policies. Considering the situation in the country, if it (door-to-door) has happened in the South, extreme North and East then why not west?” HC said.
“The Court also questioned senior counsel Anil Sakhare representing BMC and reminded him that the civic authority had earlier said that it was ready for door to door vaccination provided central government allows it.
“My question to you is since the inception of this PIL, a very senior politician received vaccination at home and that happened in Mumbai. Who did it? Corporation or state government? Someone has to take responsibility. We are saying you (BMC) are a model for the country and you can do it (door to door vaccination). Did Kerala wait for the centre’s approval? BMC has failed to live up to our expectation,” CJ Datta said.
The Court also inquired BMC and state government lawyers if and when the respective authorities had earlier sought permission to conduct ‘door-to-door’ drives as claimed by the petitioner.
The HC will hear the PIL next on Friday, June 11.