- COURT: The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India
- CITATION: WP(C) 607 of 2021
- CAUSE TITLE: Jacob Puliyel vs Union Of India & Ors.
- DATE OF ORDER: 2 May 2022
- JUDGE(S): The Hon’ble Justice Mr. L Nageswara Rao | The Hon’ble Justice Mr. Bhushan Ramkrishna Gavai
- Petitioner: Jacob Puliyel
- Respondent(s): Union Of India & Ors.
The petitioner stated in the Writ Petition that coercive vaccination would result in interfering with the principle of informed self-determination of individuals, protected by Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
The Constitution of India, 1950
Article 21: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
- The writ petitioner, Dr. Jacob Puliyel, a former member of NTAGI, had sought a direction to disclose the detailed minutes of the meetings of the SEC and the NTGAl with regard to the vaccines and divulge the reasoning of CGI’s decision in granting or rejecting an approval for an application for emergency use authorisation of vaccines. It was contended that the clinical trials in of the vaccines had not yet been completed and at present, the vaccines were only authorised for emergency use. The clinical trials are scheduled to be completed in the year 2023.
- The adverse consequences of emergency approval of vaccines in India was pointed out, the need for transparency in publishing segregated clinical trial data of vaccines, the need for disclosure of clinical data, lack of transparency in regulatory approvals, minutes and constitution of the expert bodies, imperfect evaluation of Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFIs) and vaccine mandates in the absence of informed consent due to no clinical data being made public was
Are COVID-19 vaccine mandates violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India?
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE PETITIONER
- The Petitioner strongly believed that there could not be coercive vaccination, especially of inadequately tested vaccines, which amounts to an intrusion into the individual’s personal autonomy. He was also of the firm opinion that individuals were deprived of the opportunity to give informed consent in the absence of availability of segregated data of clinical trials of the vaccines. The grievances pertaining to poor evaluation and reporting of AEFIs was also aired.
- It was argued that matters of public importance involving invasion of fundamental rights of individuals cannot be brushed aside by the Court on the ground that they were beyond the jurisdiction of the Court. This Court had a duty to safeguard the fundamental rights of individuals and issues raised that were of seminal importance which ought to be decided after assessing the relevant material placed before the Court. It was further argued that the judgments relied upon by the UOI were not applicable to the facts of this case. He relied upon the judgments of the Supreme Court of India in various cases to submit that policy decisions taken by the executive were not beyond the scope of judicial review, if they are unreasonable.
- It was submitted that there was nothing wrong in the Government encouraging the people to get vaccinated. It was contended that there was a need to balance individuals’ rights with public interest concerning health. Vaccine mandates could be on the basis of efficacy and safety of vaccination and prevention of transmission. It was also submitted that there was sufficient evidence to the effect that natural immunity acquired from a COVID-19 infection is long-lasting and robust in comparison to vaccine immunity.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENTS
- The Union of India raised a preliminary objection regarding the maintainability of the Writ Petition. It was stated if the petition, was entertained, it would harm public interest, as any observation made by the Court against vaccination would result in potential threat of vaccine in the already prevailing vaccine hesitancy in certain sections of the society.
- The existence of any other possible view could not enable the Court to interfere in matters relating to opinion of domain experts by sitting in appeal over such decisions. It was supported with the reference to the law laid down by the Court in Academy of Nutrition Improvement v. Union of India2, G. Sundarrajan v. Union of India and Shri Sitaram Sugar Company Ltd. v. Union of India. Further, the judgments of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court of New South Wales were also relied upon to lay emphasis on the limited scope of judicial review in matters of policy framed on the basis of expert opinion.
- It was submitted that the vaccines had proved to be effective and safe and any indulgence by the Court would result in vaccine hesitancy. The Government had taken extra care to appoint various committees to examine the efficacy, safety, immunogenicity, pharmacodynamics of the vaccines before granting approvals.
- The enthusiasm of the Petitioner in approaching this Court was observed. As the issues raised by the Petitioner had a bearing on public health and pertained to the fundamental rights of the country’s populace, the Court was of the opinion that it warrants due consideration by the Court. Therefore, the Court was not inclined to entertain the challenge mounted by the UOI to the maintainability of the Writ Petition.
- Compulsory vaccination against small pox was the subject-matter before The US Supreme Court in Henning Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1905). The Court was of the opinion that the mandate of the local government for compulsory vaccination was binding on every individual. The safety and health of the people had to be protected by the government and the judiciary was not competent to interfere with decisions taken in the interest of public health. The Court could interfere by way of judicial review of legislative action in matters of public health only when there was no real or substantial relation to the object of the legislation or when there was invasion of rights secured by fundamental law given by the However, it did not meant that the Court would not look into cases where violation of fundamental rights was involved and the decision of the executive is manifestly arbitrary or unreasonable.
- With respect to the infringement of bodily integrity and personal autonomy of an individual considered in the light of vaccines and other public health measures introduced to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court was of the opinion that bodily integrity was protected under Article 21 of the Constitution and no individual could be forced to be vaccinated. Further, personal autonomy of an individual, which is a recognised facet of the protections guaranteed under Article 21, encompasses the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment in the sphere of individual health. However, in the interest of protection of community health, the Government was entitled to regulate issues of public health concern by imposing certain limitations on individual rights, which are open to scrutiny by constitutional courts to assess whether such invasion into an individual’s right to personal autonomy and right to access means of livelihood meets the threefold requirement as laid down in S. Puttaswamy vs Union of India.
- The Writ Petition was disposed.
Click here to read the download the original copy of the judgment