Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the vaccination drive was based on a globally accepted norm to protect the most vulnerable first.
The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the government whether it can tweak its vaccination policy to give priority to “certain professionals” who have “to meet people to earn their livelihood”.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre, replied that there were exactly three categories of people who “want” the vaccine.
“Those who say ‘I can afford the vaccine, so I want it’. Those who say ‘I feel I need it and want it’ and those who ‘really need the vaccine’. The government has gone for the third category,” Mr. Mehta said.
He said the vaccination drive was based on a globally accepted norm to protect the most vulnerable first. The aged population, considering the heavy mortality rate and presence of co-morbidities, had been given first priority.
“Age is taken as the criterion, whether the person is an illiterate or a scientist,” Mr. Mehta explained.
Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde, heading a three-judge Bench, however said there was a “real apprehension” among the legal fraternity that exposure to the disease would be fatal.
“Advocates can make money only if they come in contact with people and they need reasonable assurance,” Chief Justice Bobde said.
“How do I [government] distinguish between a 35-year-old advocate and a vegetable vendor? How do I create class? The vendor is equally susceptible to get the disease… Tomorrow, journalists may make a similar request, saying we also come into contact with people,” Mr. Mehta protested.
“We don’t know exactly how a journalist goes about his business… Journalists can work without coming into contact with people, but lawyers cannot,” Chief Justice Bobde persisted.
“Then what about bank employees… This is not about one profession over another,” Mr. Mehta stood his ground.
“Certain professionals… those who must, to earn their livelihood, meet people… Can some priority be given? Will you [government] be able to do that? It is a genuine concern,” Chief Justice Bobde insisted.
Mr. Mehta did not commit to an opinion at this point, opting to explain to the court that the government had an expert committee of doctors which was monitoring the vaccination drive.
“Let them [legal fraternity] make a representation and give it to us. We will come back in two days,” he submitted orally.