May 5, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we decode the recent Supreme Court verdict on vaccine mandates. We also look at Maharashtra’s plans to create a master database of all residents, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Decoding the SC verdict on vaccine mandates
Millions worldwide have taken the trip to their local medical clinic or hospital to take the COVID-19 vaccine available in their countries. Concerning the vaccine, public health and individual responsibility & beliefs might clash. Individual liberty suppressed for the greater good is amongst the oldest and most tricky questions democracies grapple with.
That seems to be the basis of the Supreme Court’s recent judgment on vaccine mandates. The court made it clear that no one can be physically forced to get vaccinated, citing bodily integrity/autonomy of a person. It also said vaccine mandates imposed by states are not proportionate.
Is the court right, or do vaccine mandates serve a broader public health purpose to help societies get back to some sense of normalcy?
In January, India reached the one-year anniversary of its vaccination drive – the world’s largest. As of January 2022, 1.56 billion vaccine doses were administered. It’s one of the fastest in the world. It began with healthcare workers and adults over 60. It progressively expanded to those over 45 with co-morbidities, and then to all adults above 18.
As the vaccination drive continues, the issue of vaccine mandates has come up a few times. Let’s start with access to healthcare. The Indian constitution doesn’t explicitly state health as a fundamental right. Through a series of judicial precedents, the Supreme Court expanded the interpretation of the right to life to include health. Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV of the Indian Constitution provide a basis for the right to health.
The constitution also obliges the State to enhance public health and even allows panchayats and municipalities to strengthen public health. This means the State has an obligation to care for the health of the public at large. The Union and state governments have done so over the past couple of years during the pandemic by allocating hospitals and beds, access to treatments, etc.
In the early months of the vaccination drive, there was an understandable push to get as many people vaccinated as possible. The government’s approach was to create awareness on why taking the vaccine would help protect oneself and others. As the vaccination rates increased, the broader public health aspect became clearer as some states began introducing vaccine mandates. The message was simple – if you want to enter this particular space, you need to show proof of vaccination. Many private enterprises did the same.
The issue itself has become a point of contention. In the US, Canada, and some European countries, people have protested against vaccine mandates citing violations of their rights. In India, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that his right to not be infected outweighs others’ right to not wanting to get vaccinated. The court seemed to disagree citing fundamental rights.
VIEW: It’s public health we’re dealing with
Ethically speaking, there’s the idea that we can do things as long as it doesn’t harm others. Getting the vaccine isn’t just about protecting oneself but also others around us. If we were to talk about the vaccine itself, it acts as a protection, not just from severe infection, but from spreading the virus to others. The latter is the reason why masks are mandated, to protect others.
States like Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have vaccine mandates for certain public services. Legally, they have the right to do so as granted by Entry 6, List II of the Seventh Schedule of the constitution. In hearing a PIL on this issue, the Madras High Court had concerns about an individual’s rights given the current circumstances. It stated a vaccine is issued in the interest of public health. Given an unvaccinated person can carry and spread the virus, it cast doubt on the right to refuse.
Vaccine mandates have been around for a long time. For example, in the mid-19th century, Britain mandated vaccines against smallpox. The key was to educate the public about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine to reduce vaccine hesitancy. Several countries also have vaccine mandates for polio and measles. Some countries like Austria and the United Kingdom have flip-flopped on mandates.
Mehta, arguing before the apex court, said an individual’s personal liberty isn’t absolute. It comes down to the notion of liberty to exercise one’s right until it infringes on the right of another. He said the court has to reconcile and balance the competing interests involved. After all, it’s the government’s job to make sure people are safe and protected, whether from a national security standpoint or public health.
COUNTERVIEW: Violates personal liberty
Concerning vaccine mandates, some countries have started to roll back. Several Australian states used it to drive up vaccination rates. Now, some have decided to scrap them for people who enter bars, cafes, and other public spaces. Some states and cities in the USA have rolled back their vaccine mandates as data showed the worst of the Omicron variant had passed.
In response to Tushar Mehta’s point on mandates, the court based its opinion on a person’s fundamental rights guaranteed in the Indian constitution. It cited bodily integrity and autonomy. Part of the reason here is vaccine hesitancy and transparency. One way to reduce hesitancy is to make data available to the public on any post-vaccine adverse effects. The court asked the government to do just that.
The court noted that Article 21 of the constitution protects against the infringement of bodily integrity and personal autonomy. Personal autonomy includes the right of an individual to refuse any medical treatment. The court was balanced in its opinion as it took cognizance of public health. If there was an increase in infection rates, the government has the right to impose restrictions. Currently, that’s not the case.
The court also said those who don’t want the vaccine based on personal or religious beliefs can avoid them without anyone physically compelling them. It also said the vaccine mandates introduced by states aren’t proportionate. For this, it said, there’s no data to prove that unvaccinated individuals were more likely to spread the virus than those vaccinated. Hence, there’s no reason for people to be denied access to public spaces.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Vaccine mandates are necessary as public health is important.
b) Vaccine mandates are not necessary as they violate fundamental rights.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
What The Proposed Uniform Civil Code Should – And Shouldn’t – Be
For the Left:
Time For Rahul Gandhi To Do A Vajpayee
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Hard stance of Haflong Hindi (Assam) – As the Centre tries to make the standardised form of Hindi compulsory in schools, Assam’s Haflong Hindi is trying not to get washed out. Haflong Hindi is mostly spoken among the Dimasa people and is associated with the state’s sole hill station, Dima Hasao. Due to mixing with the “mainland”, the dialect is slowly fading away to make space for the generic version of Hindi.
Why it matters: Haflong Hindi can be traced back to the 1800s, when non-tribal merchants and construction workers were brought in to work on the railway line. The line was completed by 1899, and by then, the workers had settled in. The language they spoke became known as Haflong Hindi which follows Tibeto-Burman grammar instead.
Ultras misleading youth (Jammu & Kashmir) – According to officials, a recent report states that 17 youths who went to Pakistan for education were recruited by terror groups. They have since been killed at the Line of Control either trying to infiltrate Kashmir or during encounters with other terror groups. Officials say that this shows a pattern of Pakistan using education as bait to misguide and radicalise young people.
Why it matters: As of now, the State Investigation Agency has filed a chargesheet against 3 individuals, one of whom happens to be a Kashmiri student in Pakistan. The SIA has also invoked letters rogatory, a legal tool which acts as a formal request between foreign courts of assistance. Now, the Indian court will seek assistance regarding the chargesheet from the courts in Pakistan.
Tensions rise in tea belt (West Bengal) – Recently, CM Mamata Banerjee stopped the entry of all trucks carrying “illegal” coal from Assam. Since then, officials have practically banned all trucks carrying coal from Northeastern states from entering the state. This is worrying the stakeholders of the tea estates in West Bengal. Due to this sudden halt in coal supply, several smaller tea factories have closed down.
Why it matters: Coal is the main fuel used in tea factories. With a halt in coal supply from the Northeast, the tea companies have to turn to imported coal from Indonesia. This is more expensive and often has a smaller calorific value, i.e. the measure of heating power. According to Prabir Seal, president of the North Bengal Tea Producers’ Association, out of the 200 bought-leaf factories in the state, 40 have already shut down.
Master database of citizens (Maharashtra) – The MVA government will be creating a “master database” of all the state’s residents and providing them with a state-level unique ID. According to officials, this project will combine data from all state departments and list every scheme each person has availed of. The government believes that this will help them come up with data-driven policies that serve its people better.
Why it matters: Right now, for a new scheme to be implemented, the government has to undertake fresh surveys during the proposal period. Because all of this data from different departments have never been merged, each department has to keep making fresh surveys for data collection. This merged database will help skip all that and make the process far more efficient.
A new groundnut seed (Andhra Pradesh) – The new variety of groundnut seeds, i.e. the Kadiri-Lepakshi 1812 variety developed in the Kadiri Agriculture Research Station, is supposed to be drought resistant and can deal with erratic rainfall. Produce from this variety contains 28% protein and 51% oil. All of this essentially comes as a huge sigh of relief for groundnut farmers of the state.
Why it matters: Due to unprecedented weather conditions and the fallen productivity of the Kadiri-6 variety of the groundnut, the acreage of the crop has declined. Normally, 7.16 lakh hectares get covered with groundnut crops but last year, only 6.59 lakh hectares were used for it. This decline definitely exacerbated the scarcity of edible oils in the Indian market as farmers opted for safer crops.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
76% – According to the latest data available from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), as of 2020, around 76% of our prison inmates were still undertrial. This means that 3,71,848 out of the total 4,88,511 prison inmates are currently undertrials. 68% of them also happen to be illiterate or school dropouts.