Bombay High Court has ordered Maharashtra and central governments to furnish clarifications establishing their stand on making Aadhaar mandatory for getting COVID-19 vaccinations. The question was raised while hearing the petitions filed in the court related to the COVID-19 situation in Maharashtra.
The court observed that the central and state governments should find an alternate system for vaccinating citizens across the country, especially prisoners who may not have Aadhaar cards. This statement came in the backdrop of concerns raised by Professor Vijay Raghavan, member of Centre for Criminology and Justice, TATA Institute of Social Services, whose team closely works with prisoners in 6 prisons across Maharashtra.
During the hearing a petition over the rise of COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra prisons, Raghavan told the bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni that prisoners who did not have Aadhaar cards were not able to avail vaccinations. As such, he urged the Court to pass appropriate orders.
Chief Justice Datta, in turn, enquired with the state whether there was any mechanism to identify whether a prisoner had an Aadhaar card or not.
"Let us say an accused is asked by the Magistrate whether he has Aadhar or not, and he says no, then what can be done about it? Can you not check?" Chief Justice Datta asked Advocate General (AG) Ashutosh Kumbhakoni.
The Court further enquired if a mechanism similiar to the one used for collecting biometric data of individuals traveling abroad can be used to verify whether a prisoner has Aadhaar or not.
The AG responded that the issue of Aadhar-for-vaccination was a pressing issue in most prisons of Maharashtra as some of the prisoners were foreign nationals. Such prisoners would not have Aadhaar, he noted.
The Court observed that Aadhaar may be important for the purposes of identifying the person being administered the vaccination and for the purpose of maintaining a nation-wide data base. However, the Court opined that the authorities have to come up with some solution to vaccinate persons who may not have Aadhaar.
"Some solution has to be found out from the Centre too. This issue of Aadhaar is pan-India issue," Chief Justice Datta said.
Kumbhakoni informed the court that a request has been made to the Centre for its instructions on this issue and its response is awaited.
Chief Justice Datta also suggested holding Aadhar card camps in prisons. To this, Kumbhakoni pointed out there are some foreigners in prisons as well.
"They can't have Aadhaar. The jail authorities have already written to central as well as state authorities about this issue of mandatory Aadhar for vaccine." The court then opined that "there must be someway to bypass this Aadhar issue. Vaccination is the easiest way to control this pandemic."
"Those who don't have Aadhaar card, they are not getting vaccinations. As a matter of policy please decide. On the ground that you do not have Aadhaar card and you are not vaccinated. That cannot be the situation," Chief Justice Datta said.