‘Examine the issue religiously’: SC questions Centre’s COVID-19 vaccine pricing policy

The Supreme Court disapproved of the Central government's COVID-19 vaccine pricing and procurement policy, remarking that vaccines which states have to procure are overpriced

What is going on with the AstraZeneca vaccine?
What is going on with the AstraZeneca vaccine?
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NH Web Desk

The Supreme Court on Friday disapproved of the Central government's COVID-19 vaccine pricing and procurement policy, remarking that vaccines which states have to procure are overpriced.

A three-judge Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat did not pass any binding directions or order in this regard, but asked the Centre to examine the issue religiously.

"AstraZeneca is providing vaccines at far lower price to the US citizens then why should we be paying so much? Manufacturers are charging you Rs. 150 but Rs. 300 or 400 to States. Why should we as a nation pay this, the price difference becomes 30 to 40,000 crores?" Justice Ravindra Bhat said.

Rules 19 and 20 of the Drugs Price Control Order require the Centre to control the price of drugs, he added, Bar & Bench reported. The court made the remarks while hearing the suo motu case initiated by it to examine issues relating to COVID-19 management in the country.

Justice Bhat stressed on the significance of cooperative federalism, stating that this is a public health emergency.


"Your (Central government's) affidavit says you have 10 PSUs who can manufacture. You can get licenses through patent controller and get it manufactured," he further said.

"We are not directing it, but you should look into it," he emphasised.

The court also asked the government about the procurement of vaccines by states, while asking why a national immunisation policy cannot be adopted.

"Will one state get priority access over another in getting the vaccines? Centre says 50 percent will be procured by states for vaccines. How will the vaccine manufacturers ensure equity? Why not follow the National Immunization Program policy...procurement is centralised but distribution be decentralised," Justice DY Chandrachud asked.

He also asked whether the Central government considered invoking Section 92 of Patents Act and issuing compulsory licenses so that drugs can be manufactured while royalties are sorted.

"Compulsory licenses can be granted with sunset clause which shows that such licenses will be over once the pandemic is over. Doha Declaration of TRIPS show that member states can take such steps to protect right of public health," he said.

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