The Delhi high court on Tuesday castigated the Centre over the shortage of vaccines, observing that some of the central government’s officers are living in “ivory towers” ignorant of ground realities at a time when Covid-19 “has not spared a single family”.
The court was hearing a petition by Panacea Biotec, which sought directions to the Union government to release several crores of rupees owed to it out of an arbitration ruling. The company said the money is required in order for it to produce doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, for which it has a licence from the original developers.
“Which bureaucrat is giving you instructions? Is he not alive to the situation? God bless this country. That is why we are facing this situation. In such matters instructions are need to be taken from the highest authorities, that, too, within 30 minutes,” the court said, highlighting that such partnership attempts with foreign vaccine manufacturers are an opportunity to the nation facing shortage of vaccines.
“Tell your officers it is an opportunity for you, don’t lose it. The virus has not spared any single family. Your officers are living in ivory towers,” a bench of justices Manmohan and Navin Chawla remarked.
“Does your officer not see so many deaths are taking place in the country and we are short of vaccines? You are so short of vaccines and you are not taking it through. Maybe it is an opportunity for you. Don’t be so negative. It is like a raging fire and nobody is bothered. You people don’t understand the larger picture or what,” the court fumed.
“No one is applying its mind” when there is an opportunity for the government to get millions of vaccines, the bench said. “Otherwise, deaths will continue to happen. Every day you are castigated by each and every court and still you are not awake.”
The high court was hearing a plea of Delhi-based Panacea Biotec seeking release of money as per a July 2020 arbitral award saying it needed funds at the earliest in the larger interest of humanity as it has already manufactured trial batches of Sputnik V in collaboration with RDIF and the process of manufacturing scale-up batches is on.
“The collaboration of applicant with RDIF gives India an opportunity to ensure that the vaccine manufactured by the applicant is used for sale in India,” the court noted while asking the Centre to file a reply in a week and listed it for hearing on May 31.
According to the plea, “If the awarded amount is not released… the whole process of manufacture of vaccine at the fastest pace may get derailed and delayed, which will not be in the larger interest of humanity.”
The Centre opposed the plea, arguing that the manufacturing won’t benefit the country as it would be for global supply by RDIF and its Indian partner. The government claimed the vaccines were to be sold outside India. In response, the company pointed out that no manufactured vaccine could be exported without the government’s consent and these vaccines were meant for Indian use.
The bench said the company was willing to deposit 20% of the sale proceeds in the court, so it should be taken as an opportunity to get more vaccines.
Panacea Biotec argued that Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech were also exporting Covid-19 vaccines to various countries. “Unless timely steps for manufacture of Covid-19 vaccine are taken, the death toll can go up to astronomical figures,” it said while maintaining that 100 million doses per year of Sputnik V would be manufactured for the global market.