Government officials who are sitting on the “untapped potential” of India to manufacture COVID-19 vaccine should be charged with “manslaughter”, the Delhi High Court warned on Wednesday.
“There is a lot of scope and infrastructure for manufacture of vaccine in India. And this matter, you (Centre) must really consider. This untapped potential has to be utilised. Your officers are not realising this,” a Bench of Justice Manmohan and Justice Najmi Waziri said.
The court’s observation came while hearing a plea of Delhi-based Panacea Biotec, which has sought the release of an arbitral award passed in its favour and against the Centre, saying it needs funds at the earliest in the larger interest of humanity as it has already manufactured trial batches of Sputnik V vaccine in collaboration with Russian Direct Investment Fund and wants to scale it up.
The court said the Centre must expedite the process of clearing samples of Panacea Biotec, noting “there is such an element of palpable disquiet in the country. Everybody wants vaccine. We have to cut this short”.
Additional Solicitor General Balbir Singh informed the court that the Indian government has decided to procure Sputnik V vaccine from Dr. Reddy’s alone. He said Panacea has to go through ethnicity and efficacy tests for any adverse effect on the population.
Reacting to this, the court remarked, “Then the bridge trials should have been conducted even with regard to the imported vaccine. You have done away with it for the imported vaccine. Why insist on it for the domestic manufacturer but not for the manufacturer abroad?”
“And the rule itself empowers you to actually waive this (tests), if you in your wisdom like to waive it. In the end they are identical products, one is imported and another manufactured here,” the court said.
“The problem is of fear psychosis that some vigilance enquiry will take place, audit will take place, police investigation will take place. Tell them (officers), this is not the time to be wary of these investigations and audit reports. This is leading to deaths today… Actually some people need to be charged with manslaughter if they have been sitting over this untapped potential,” the court remarked.
The High Court further said that the population in Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and other States around Delhi can be supplied with the vaccines which are manufactured in north India. “Half the country can be fed from here only. There is a really amazing urgency,” it said.
The High Court also highlighted that the Centre in its affidavit had admitted to not having any information or knowledge about the vaccine manufacturing capability of Panacea.
“In ordinary circumstances you may be right that people have to approach you. But these are extraordinary circumstances,” it said, directing the Centre to come back with some “positive” instruction on the issue by Friday, the next date of hearing.
During the hearing, the ASG argued that “the entire issue of procuring and manufacturing of vaccines, including Sputnik, is pending before the Supreme Court and therefore this court should not pass any order in the present application”.
This article was originally published on The Hindu