By A Special Correspondent
First publised on 2022-01-19 07:09:51
The debate over what is in public interest and whether such public interest fiats by governments can override personal preference of the people is now being examined by the Supreme Court, vis-a-vis Covid vaccination. Although the Centre has submitted before the court that it has not issued any direction making vaccination certificate mandatory for either travelling or availing any government welfare benefits, the ground reality is different. All over India, different states at various points of time have asked travelers to produce fully vaccinated certificates for gaining entry in their states. It is true that there is no coercion for taking vaccines but it is also true that since many places and services are being made inaccessible to those who are not vaccinated, it amounts to coercion by other means.
For instance, in some states the unvaccinated are not allowed to travel on public transport including the Metro. They are not allowed entry into public parks, auditoriums, museums, other public buildings and even private offices. Government employees are not allowed to attend office and teachers are not allowed to take classes in schools and colleges if they are not fully vaccinated. In some states, salaries are not disbursed to state government employees if they are not fully vaccinated. In Madhya Pradesh, the state government has linked distribution of PDS ration to vaccination while in Kerala the state health department has directed government hospitals to withhold free Covid treatment to unvaccinated patients.
The main thing to consider here is that a pandemic is an emergency situation that has the potential of causing severe health problems for a huge number of people and bringing public health infrastructure under unmanageable stress. It also has the potential of derailing the economy and causing job losses and loss of livelihood to many. Since Covid infection is known to spread in communities, people who do not follow what is prescribed in public interest (wearing masks in public, maintaining physical distance, getting jabbed or any other restriction put in place to prevent the spread of the virus) put the entire community at risk. This cannot be allowed for the misplaced personal preference or stubbornness of a few. If people can be penalized for not wearing masks in public or moving about during lockdowns or curfew hours, logically they should also be penalized for not taking the vaccines.