The deadly COVID- 19 virus has not left any single family in its plight yet central government officers are living in "ivory towers" unaware of the harsh ground realities, remarked Delhi High Court on Tuesday.
A bench of Justices Manmohan and Navin Chawla also said "God bless this country", which chastised the Centre for failing to recognize the pandemic that is claiming so many lives. The bench asserted that Panacea Biotec's agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) for the manufacture of the Sputnik V vaccine should be seen as an incentive to ensure its use in the United States and that in such cases, orders must be procured from the highest authority within 30 minutes.
It said that "no one is applying their mind" when the government has a chance to obtain millions of vaccines and can secure a window of advantage.
"Otherwise, deaths will continue to happen. Every day you are castigated by each and every court and still, you are not awake. Which bureaucrat is giving you instructions. Is he not alive in the situation? God bless this country. That is why we are facing this situation. In such matters, instructions are to be taken from the highest authorities that too within 30 minutes," the bench said.
"Does your officer not see so many deaths are taking place in the country and we are short of vaccines."
The bench, which was critical of the Centre's stand on the issue, said "You (government) are so short of vaccines and you are not taking it through. Maybe it is an opportunity for you. Don't be so negative. It is like a raging fire and nobody is bothered. You people don't understand the larger picture or what."
"Tell your officers it is an opportunity for you, don't lose it. No one is applying its mind. The virus has not spared any single family. Your officers are living in ivory towers," the bench cautioned reported The New Indian Express.
The high court made the observations while hearing a petition by Delhi-based Panacea Biotec to amend a July 2020 order in which the company agreed not to pursue further execution proceedings associated with an arbitral award worth crores of rupees that was passed in its favour and challenged the Centre.
In a new filing, the organisation requested the release of the arbitral grant, claiming that it urgently wants funds for the greater good of humanity because it has already produced trial batches of COVID vaccine Sputnik V in conjunction with RDIF and is in the procedure of manufacturing scale-up batches.
The bench said, "This court is of the view that in today's time there is an acute shortage of vaccines in India and the collaboration of applicant (Panacea Biotec) with RDIF gives India an opportunity to ensure that the vaccine manufactured by the applicant is used for sale in India."The court served notice on the Centre, asking it to review the plea and respond within a week, and set a hearing date for May 3
Sandeep Sethi, a senior advocate, representing the firm said, "If the awarded amount is not released, the whole process of manufacture of vaccine at the fastest pace may get derailed and delayed which will not be in the larger interest of humanity."
The Centre's Additional Solicitor General Balbir Singh argued that producing Sputnik V would not help the country because it will be for global supply through RDIF. He implicated that the plea included certain false claims and that there was no need for a hearing because the vaccines would be sold outside of India.
Rajesh Ranjan and BS Shukla, advocates for the Centre, were also present. According to Sethi, Without the government's permission, no produced vaccines can be exported. He said that these vaccines are only for use in India and that it would profit the government because the company is one of the biggest vaccine producers in the world, supplying both domestic and foreign markets.
In response to the Centre's opposition, the bench said that the government is in need of vaccines, and this firm has stated that they are able to produce and deposit 20% of the selling proceeds in the court, so it should be seen as an incentive. The application was lodged in the Centre's pending appeal against a single judge's decision rejecting its petition due to a short statute of limitations period.
The Centre had opposed the arbitral tribunal's award in favour of Panacea Biotec, Bharat Biotech International Ltd, and Serum Institute of India pertaining to an earlier deal for pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccines in 2010, before the single court.
Panacea Biotec put forth before the division bench that Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech are now exporting COVID-19 vaccines to different countries, and that there is now a massive scarcity of vaccines that are not easily available for people aged 18 and up, despite the fact that they have been formally considered eligible for vaccination since May 1.
"It is one of the greatest challenge humanity is facing which can only be overcome by vaccination and by following other protocols. Unless timely steps for the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccine are taken, the death toll can go up to astronomical figures," it said while retaining that 100 million doses of Sputnik V vaccine will be manufactured each year for the global market.