The Bombay High Court on Thursday refused to hear a PIL seeking a direction to the Serum Institute of India and the Bharat Biotech to sell their COVID-19 vaccines at a uniform rate of Rs 150 (plus GST) per dose. The public interest litigation (PIL), filed last week by Mumbai-based advocate Fayzan Khan and three law students, had challenged the different rates of COVID-19 vaccines for the Centre and state governments.
The plea was mentioned on Thursday by the petitioner's advocate, Vivek Shukla, before a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni, seeking urgent hearing. The HC, however, said the petition should have been filed before the Supreme Court which, while taking up suo motu (on its own) cognisance of matters pertaining to COVID-19, had said it would hear all pan-India issues.
"The Supreme Court has said issues that have pan-India effect will be dealt with by them and pricing is a phenomenon applicable all over India. We are not entertaining it (PIL) as the apex court has fairly covered it," the court said. The HC also said the pricing of COVID-19 vaccines is a universal issue that concerns the whole nation and hence, the petitioners should approach the Supreme Court.
Advocate Shukla agreed and said the petition would be withdrawn. The PIL, filed on April 24, said the COVID-19 vaccine is presumed to be an essential commodity and hence, its management and distribution cannot be left in the hands of private companies.
"These pharma giants are milking the fear psychosis of the increased death rates due to COVID-19," it said. Under the third phase of the national vaccination drive commencing next month, the vaccine manufacturers would supply 50 per cent of their monthly Central Drugs Laboratory (CDL) released doses to the central government and would be free to supply the remaining 50 per cent doses to state governments and in the open market, the government had said.
"In a situation where the entire country is gripped with the COVID-19 pandemic, price control by the government is a must and such kind of loot and blackmail should not be permitted," the PIL said. The petition further said the Serum Institute of India (SII) was selling its 'Covishield' vaccine at Rs 150 (plus GST) per dose to the Centre, Rs 400 to state governments and Rs 600 to private hospitals.
On Wednesday, the SII announced that it would reduce the price of its vaccine from Rs 400 to Rs 300 per dose to the state governments. The Bharat Biotech has fixed the rate of its vaccine, 'Covaxin', at Rs 600 for state governments and Rs 1,200 for private hospitals.