Registrar General, High Court of Meghalaya v. State of Meghalaya PIL No.6/2021- The Meghalaya High Court has ruled that forced vaccination is a violation of one's fundamental rights.
DATE OF JUDGMENT:
Hon’ble Mr. Justice Biswanath Somadder, Chief Justice& Hon’ble Mr. Justice H.S. Thangkhiew, Judge
Registrar General, High Court of Meghalaya(Petitioner)
State of Meghalaya(Respondent)
Forced vaccination, according to the Meghalaya High Court, is a violation of fundamental rights under Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution. It went on to say that it was the state's role to inform and educate residents about the complete vaccination process, including the benefits and drawbacks.
- After learning that the state had compelled merchants, vendors, and cab drivers get themselves vaccinated against Covid-19 before restarting their business, the court filed a suo moto public interest lawsuit.
- Meghalaya's health department commissioned a research from the Indian Institute of Public Health in Shillong after the state's health agency struggled to vaccinate even its healthcare personnel. According to the preliminary findings, one of the key reasons of reluctance is "messages on social media."
- The phenomena of people declining to get immunised despite the availability of a safe and efficient vaccine is complicated and influenced by a number of factors. It's made considerably more problematic by the exceptional conditions and rushed deadlines under which the Covid-19 vaccines were created. As a result, specialists believe that people's anxiety is natural.
- Apart from the natural anxieties that exist across the country, Meghalaya appears to be dealing with anti-vaccination propaganda from fringe Christian groups. The vaccine has been linked to an evil energy by fringe Christian groups. According to Reverend Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh of the Khasi-Jaintia Presbyterian Church in Meghalaya, “there is this concept among certain fringe elements that the vaccine is also part of some type of controlling mechanism.”
- Vaccine apprehension was fuelled in Meghalaya's Khasi and Jaintia hills, according to some, by a "combination of scientific and religious" misinformation.
- Anti-vaccine WhatsApp messages invoking American right-wing conspiracy theories, according to residents, have been circulating in the state since last year. Anti-vaccination movements have a lengthy history in the United States, with many of them closely related to evangelical groups. Such organisations have also thwarted the country's Covid-19 vaccination campaign. As a result, in many places of the United States, shots are going unused.
Court’s Observation and Order
The Meghalaya High Court has ruled that compulsory or coercive vaccination is a violation of the fundamental right to livelihood.
The very basic goal of the benefit associated to vaccination is vitiated when it is forced or made mandatory by coercive techniques. It infringes on fundamental rights in general, particularly when it comes to the right to a means of livelihood that allows a person to live.
The bench referenced multiple court judgments to emphasise that forced vaccination is prohibited. The bench's decision also brought up issues of physical autonomy.
“Whether to subject oneself to an intrusion of one's body, even if of minor intensity, such as through a needle, concerns issues of personal and bodily autonomy and bodily integrity, similar to abortion rights, non-sterilization rights, or even sex reassignment surgeries, irrespective of the consequences the individual might be inviting,” the report stated.
Following the court judgement, the state principal secretary stated that the current vaccine compliance directives would be changed.
Court’s View on Forceful Vaccination
The Court began by considering a crucial question: can a State Government and/or its authority make any notification/order that is likely to have a direct effect on its people' fundamental rights, particularly on a subject that involves both public health and individual fundamental rights?
The Court found that there was a "clear lack of legitimacy" in prohibiting "freedom of carrying on any occupation, trade, or business among a certain category or class of citizens who are otherwise entitled to do so by making the notification/order ill-conceived, arbitrary, and/or a colorable exercise of power" in the present case.
The Court went on to say that it is the responsibility of the state to inform citizens about the entire vaccination process, including its benefits and drawbacks, and to facilitate informed decision-making, particularly when the beneficiaries are sceptical, susceptible, and belong to a vulnerable/marginalized section of society.
Directions to the State Government on Vaccination
- In the event that all employees and staff of the concerned shop/establishment are vaccinated, a notice stating "Vaccinated" should be conspicuously displayed in a visible location in all shops/establishments, local taxis/auto-rickshaws/maxi cabs, and buses. Vaccination is also required in the case of local taxis/autorickshaws/maxi cabs and buses when the driver, conductor, or helper(s) is/are vaccinated.
- In the event when all of the employees and personnel of the concerned shop/establishment are not vaccinated, a sign stating "Not Vaccinated" shall be clearly displayed in a visible location in all shops/establishments, local taxis/auto-rickshaws/maxi cabs, and buses. Similarly, local taxis/autorickshaws/maxi cabs and buses where the driver, conductor, or helper(s) are not vaccinated.
- The size of the "Vaccinated" or "Not Vaccinated" signs, as well as the prominent location where they must be affixed/displayed, will be determined by the State's responsible body. If any shops/establishments/local taxis/autorickshaws/maxi cabs and buses disobey the aforesaid guidelines, the State's concerned authority would order their closure/stoppage of plying immediately.
- The issue of vaccine hesitancy must be addressed by the State Government in accordance with the new recommendations announced yesterday by the Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department, Government of Meghalaya, as well as the observations made by us previously.
- If any individual or organisation attempts to spread false information about the efficacy of vaccination among the people of this State, the State's responsible authorities will intervene immediately and take legal action against such person or organisation.
The Meghalaya High Court has ruled that compelled or coercive vaccinations are unconstitutional and must be declared ultra vires from the start. The Meghalaya High Court granted a spate of orders to the State Government regarding immunisation of all businesses, establishments, local taxis, and other places to guarantee that people have a "educated choice" when it comes to vaccination.
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