The Supreme Court Monday directed the Centre to file reply on a plea seeking to revive the vaccine public sector units and utilise their full production capabilities by placement of purchase orders.
A bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and A S Bopanna asked the Centre to respond to the plea within four weeks after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said notice is not needed in the matter as this would be in the domain of policy decision.
“We want to know what is the policy of the government… SG appears for Centre and states that a reply will be filed by four weeks. A rejoinder may be filed within three weeks thereafter. List the matter after the pleadings are complete,” the bench said.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati also appeared for the Centre.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves appeared for the petitioners.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by former IAS Amulya Ratna Nanda, All India Drug Action Network, Low Cost Standard Therapeutics and Medico Friend Circle to grant functional autonomy to vaccine public sector units and put these PSUs to use especially after public funds were spent to make them Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) compliant.
The plea said these PSUs should be granted “full autonomy” as envisaged in the Javid Chowdhary report, on vaccine production in the public sector units, of 2010 to ensure their complete revival and smooth functioning in the future.
It stated no PSUs should be excluded from producing any vaccine or from government vaccine procurement, as long as quality and affordability are ensured.
Referring to a 2016 order of the top court, in which the government had agreed to take action to revive the PSUs, the plea said the vaccine manufacturing facilities that were catering to 80-85 per cent of the demand prior to their suspension continued to languish wastefully despite their modernisation and capacity expansion.
“India is home to the oldest vaccine PSUs, with 25 of them set up under the British Raj. By the 1980s, 29 PSUs were set up with the sole objective of self-reliance and self-sufficiency in vaccine production for the Universal Immunisation Programme introduced in 1986 to prevent mortality and morbidity amongst children in India as part of the global effort by the World Health Organisation,” the plea said.