New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday deferred for March 15 the hearing on the petition that has sought directions for disclosure of data on clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines and post-jab cases after it was informed that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was unavailable for the arguments due to medical urgency.
A bench of Justices L N Rao and B R Gavai was informed by Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati (ASG), appearing for the Centre, that the Solicitor General who is leading the government in the matter from the beginning was ready to argue but he had a fall in the washroom in the morning.
“Before I start, I must inform your lordships that the solicitor has been leading us in this matter from the beginning and last evening, we had a six hours conference and are fully ready with the matter. Unfortunately, there is a little medical issue. He had a fall in the washroom this morning,” Bhati told the bench.
“How is he (Mehta),” the bench inquired.
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The ASG said Mehta has gone to a hospital.
“Hopefully, it is nothing serious,” Bhati said adding that ”If your lordships can accommodate, then we would like him to lead us. But I am ready and I am here.” The bench said it would hear arguments on March 15 as there is some medical issue.
“We will have it on March 15, Tuesday. There is a medical emergency. I hope he will be all right, otherwise, you continue,” Justice Rao said, adding, “We will accommodate.” The bench observed there is a medical issue otherwise the matter, which is part-heard, cannot be adjourned. While hearing arguments in the matter on March 2, the bench had sought to know if it can examine the issue of clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines which is the domain of the experts.
The apex court had said the decision on vaccination has been taken based on some data by experts.
”Science is a matter of opinion. Can we delve deep into this area which we don’t understand? There could be different opinions. We are not experts. Don’t ask us to go deep into this area..,” the bench had observed.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner, had submitted that whether to get vaccinated or not is an individual decision and in the absence of informed consent, mandatory vaccination was unconstitutional.
He had contended that imposing a vaccine mandate puts fetter upon the right to access essential goods and services.
The apex court had in August last year asked the Centre, Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute of India (SII), and others to respond to the plea seeking directions for disclosure of data on clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines as also on post-jab cases.
Bhushan had then told the court that it was not an “anti-vaccine petition” and transparency on the issue was needed as disclosure of data would rather clear all the doubts and hesitancy.
While making clear that the petitioner was not seeking to stop the ongoing vaccination, he had earlier said the plea has also raised the issue of coercive vaccine mandates being issued like putting a certain restriction on travel if someone is not vaccinated.
The bench had issued notices to the Centre and others, including the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), seeking their responses on the petition.
The apex court is hearing a plea filed by Dr. Jacob Puliyel, who is a former member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation and has sought directions to also disclose post-vaccination data regarding adverse events.
The plea has sought directions to make public the segregated data of clinical trials for vaccines that are being administered in India under the emergency use authorisation granted by the Drugs Controller General of India.
It has also sought the apex court’s declaration that vaccine mandates, even by way of making it a pre-condition for accessing any benefits or services, are a violation of the rights of citizens and are unconstitutional.