The Bombay High Court ruled on Monday that the Central Government has not explicitly prohibited state governments from providing door-to-door vaccination for the elderly and disabled citizens who are unable to travel to immunisation centres.
As a result, a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni directed the Maharashtra government to decide whether or not to conduct door-to-door vaccinations by June 22,2021, It also stated that if such guidelines were finalized, the State would not need to wait for its orders to implement them.
On Monday, the court asked Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh if the Central Government had attempted to prevent states such as Kerala and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir from beginning door-to-door vaccination.
Mr. Singh responded that the Centre stated that their communications to the states opposing door-to-door immunisation were simply guidelines/advice that they expected states to follow.
The bench noted in its order that,
"From such reply of Mr. Singh, , it clearly appears to us that there is no categorical prohibition imposes by the central Government for the states to undertake a door to door vaccination programme, for the elderly and disabled citizens as described by us in paragraph one of four order dated June 9, 2021,".
During the previous hearing, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) informed the court that on June 10, it had written to the Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, requesting permission to begin door-to-door vaccination.
On Monday, ASG Anil Singh informed the court that the MoHFW had responded, stating that they have repeatedly advised States to operationalize 'Near to Home COVID Vaccination Centres' (NHCVCs) for needy citizens in Community Centres, Resident Welfare Association centers/offices, housing societies, school, college, buildings, old age homes etc. On May 27, 2021, a SOP was issued in this regard.
According to the letter from MoHFW to the Municipal Commissioner, the 'National Experts Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19' (NEGVAC) has advised against door-to-door vaccination, and thus the MCGM should wait for further guidelines.
PIL petitioner Advocate Dhruti Kapadia, on the other hand, cited an order of the High Court of Uttarakhand at Nainital to argue that other High Courts are also asking states to consider door-to-door vaccination.
Kapadia also referred to a news report quoting Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope as saying that the State Health Department is working on allowing home inoculation for those who are bedridden and unable to travel to vaccination centres, for which the State Task Force on Vaccination is developing protocols and guidelines.
She also cited a media report stating that Bikaner, Rajasthan, is the first city in India to begin door-to-door COVID vaccination for adults aged 45 and up.
The bench asked Singh a specific question and determined that there was no legal impediment to the states carrying out door-to-door vaccination.
In response to the Court's inquiry, Senior Advocate Anil Sakhare for the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) stated that if the State Government issued guidelines without waiting for a national policy, MCGM would begin door-to-door vaccination.
State's counsel Geeta Shastri, on the other hand, requested more time to take instructions.
The bench said in its order that,
"We accordingly adjourn the proceedings to Tuesday next(June 22,2021), to enable the State Government to take na appropriate decision on the issue of Door-to-Door vaccination of the elderly and disabled. In the vent a decision is taken permitting door to door vaccination, prior to the adjourned date of hearing , all concerned shall be free to implement the smart immediately".
The bench is hearing a PIL filed by two advocates, Dhruti Kapadia and Kunal Tiwari, who want the Central and State governments to start a door-to-door vaccination drive for citizens over the age of 75, people with physical disabilities, and the elderly.
Earlier in the proceedings, the bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni observed that several lives could have been saved, if the Centre had a door-to-door vaccination programme for the elderly and bedridden a few months ago.
The Bombay High Court granted the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) until June 1, 2021, to decide on a door-to-door policy for citizens who are unable to visit vaccination centres. In response, the Centre filed an affidavit last week, outlining five reasons why door-to-door vaccination was not feasible and why 'near-to-door vaccination' was preferable.