The Bombay High Court on Wednesday asked the Maharashtra and Union governments what steps they had taken to inform citizens about the Centre's SOPs on COVID-19 vaccination for people who do not possess one of the seven identity cards prescribed for the purpose.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and G S Kulkarni also asked the Union government to inform the court of the steps taken to cover under its vaccination drive the people who were mentally ill and without a legal guardian and hence, not in a position to give an informed consent for receiving the vaccine.
The bench was hearing a bunch of Public Interest Litigations (PILs) on ensuring greater access of the anti-COVID-19 vaccines to citizens, improved functioning of the CoWIN portal and other issues. The petitioners informed the bench that the government had prescribed a list of seven recognised identity cards, including the Aadhaar and the PAN cards, for citizens to register for vaccination on the CoWIN portal.
While the Union government had issued detailed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for people who do not possess any of these seven IDs, the responsibility of identifying such persons and ensuring they were vaccinated was given to officials at the state and district levels. Besides, these SOPs were not known to everyone, the petitioners said. They also said despite the ongoing drives, many people, particularly those in rural areas, were hesitant to take the vaccine.
The Union government's counsel, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh, opposed the submission. He said several people, who earlier made public statements against receiving the anti-COVID-19 vaccine, have now gone ahead and taken it themselves.
The bench, however, said the government must continue creating greater awareness on the vaccine and its several SOPs on the same. "What steps have you taken to educate the rural population about the importance of vaccination? The message about the vaccine's importance must reach every part of the country. Both the Centre and the state must widely publicise the vaccination benefits,” the HC said.
"What has the state and the Union (government) done to inform the public that the seven prescribed identity cards are not mandatory for vaccination?” it asked. The HC directed the state's counsel, Gita Shastri, and ASG Singh to inform the court of the steps taken by June 17, the next date of hearing.