June 18, 2021

‘Need to be charged with manslaughter’: Delhi HC raps Centre for not fully utilising vaccine manufacturing capacity

The court also said that the hand-holding of the vaccine manufacturers is missing which could be happening because of fear of vigilance or police investigations.

Coming down heavily on the Centre for not fully utilising the Covid vaccine manufacturing capacity in the country, the Delhi High Court on Wednesday said that some people need to be “charged with manslaughter if they have been just sitting over this untapped potential”. What answer will you give for the loss of lives because of the lack of vaccines, the court asked the Centre.

“There is a lot of scope and infrastructure which is available for manufacturing of vaccines. This untapped potential has to be utilised. Your officers are not realising this. People from abroad are coming. You have good vaccines in India. You handhold these vaccine manufacturers and take them all over India and tell them this hub is available and use this. There is an emergency,” the division bench of Justices Manmohan and Najmi Waziri told the Centre.

The court also said that the hand-holding of the vaccine manufacturers is missing which could be happening because of fear of vigilance or police investigations. “You have to tell them (officers) that this is not the time to be wary of these investigations or audit reports. This is leading to deaths today. Actually, some people need to be charged with manslaughter if they have been just sitting over this untapped potential,” added the court.

It further asked why it was necessary to test a vaccine being manufactured in India when exemptions from bridging trial are being provided for the same vaccines which are being imported from outside the country. “You can dispense with it. But you will not do it. What does it mean? You are just sitting over it and sticking by the rulebook when the rulebook itself says in emergent circumstances you can do that. If you had approved it one week again and taken a policy decision, surely the vaccine would have been available in the bazar,” the court said.

The court was hearing an application filed by Panacea Biotec for the release of the money awarded to it in 2019 by an arbitral tribunal. The company, which has collaborated with the Russian Direct Investment Fund, would be deprived of the opportunity to manufacture Sputnik V vaccine at “fastest pace” in case the awarded money is not released, it has told the court in the application. An award was passed in favour of Panacea Biotec in 2019 but the same was challenged by the Centre before the Delhi High Court. The challenge was dismissed by a single bench in March 2020 and the matter is pending before a division bench at present.

The Centre, in a reply, has told the court that the matter regarding vaccines is pending before the Supreme Court and described the application as bargaining and pressure tactics. It also said that no license has been granted to the company for conducting clinical trials and no such application has been received. However, the court has also been told that Dr Reddy’s has been granted permission to import Sputnik for restricted use in India.

The court on Monday had rapped the Centre for saying it does not have any information regarding the readiness or availability of the Sputnik V vaccine being manufactured by Panacea Biotec. The central government officers are not moving out of their offices, it had said. The court also said that the vaccines are required in small villages and towns and the Centre must ensure that the untapped potential is not exploited by foreigners.

On Wednesday, the court said if the Sputnik V vaccine has been permitted for import and use in India, the Centre only needs to see if the vaccine being manufactured by Panacea Biotec is the same.  “We should not be found wanting. We need doses like crores and crores every day. We have to vaccinate people. What are we waiting for?” observed the court.

The Centre told the court the imported vaccines need to go through bridging trials under the local laws to ensure safety and efficacy.

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