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State cannot discriminate against unvaccinated people: HC seeks Manipur government’s reply to PIL

High Court of Manipur

Without addressing this issue, the state cannot seek to impose conditions upon the citizens so as to compel them to get vaccinated, be it by holding out a threat or by putting them at a disadvantage for failing to get vaccinated, observed the court

TFM Desk

The Manipur government’s plan to push for mandatory vaccination by discriminating between vaccinated and unvaccinated persons while easing Covid19-induced restrictions has run into legal hurdles. The High Court of Manipur has directed the state government not to give effect to its June 30 notification titled “Priority to vaccinated persons”.

In its order, a division bench of the High Court comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice Kh Nobin Singh said, “by way of abundant caution, it is made clear that paragraph 2 of the impugned notification shall not be given effect to, even if the State resorts to any further relaxations, until the next date of hearing.”

The High Court’s order followed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by one Osbert Khaling challenging the notification dated June 30, 2021 issued by the home department, government of Manipur. The PIL sought an interim order to stay the said notification till the case is pending.

It underscored Paragraph 2 of the notification, which states that the state government proposes to relax curfew/containment zone orders in future in a calibrated manner by assessing the Covid infection scenario. While opening up, without compromising public health safety, the government considered it prudent to prioritize opening of institutions, organizations, factories, shops, markets, private offices, etc., where employees and workers were Covid vaccinated. It further stated that this would also apply to NREGA job card holders and workers of Government/ private projects.

The PIL asserted that the notification is clearly in violation of Article 14, 19 and 21 of the constitution of India wherein unvaccinated people are being discrimination at large by prioritizing the vaccinated people by the government of Manipur. “There is nothing to show that vaccinated persons cannot be infected with the deadly virus or they cannot be spreaders. If both cover their face with a mask, as per covid protocols there is no reason to discriminate against the unvaccinated people. Such notification debars the basic fundamental rights of the people which is the right to live and right to livelihood,” it added.

In the PIL, the petitioner said the Covid-19 vaccination does not guarantee 100% protection from Coronavirus. The side effects of the vaccine are different on each human being. Therefore, the vaccine can even cause major life threatening problems in future which the state or the centre is not ready to compensate for nor has any scheme for compensation, he added.

“That the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has clearly stated that any person aged 18 and above can get vaccinated on a voluntary basis. Yet the State of Manipur is prudent on compulsory vaccination by prioritizing the vaccinated people,” he claimed.

After hearing Counsel for the petitioner, the court observed that prima facie, the aforestated prescriptions seem to make vaccination mandatory as they favour those who are vaccinated, not only in terms of prioritizing the opening up of their institutions, organizations, etc., but also by linking vaccination as a condition precedent for employment of NREGA job card holders and workers in Government and private projects.

The HC bench further said the government of Manipur apparently issued the impugned notification, in keeping with the policy of the Central Government, seeking to promote Covid vaccinations. The objective of the Government is to ensure a degree of immunity in the people, at least to the extent of preventing dire consequences, if infected.

However, the bench said the ground reality is that there is abounding ignorance amongst the people as to the side effects, if any, of the vaccination and in consequence, apprehensions of the risks that may ensue upon being vaccinated. “It is for the State Government to dispel such fears by educating people as to the advantages of getting vaccinated and erase their apprehension of the adverse consequences of getting vaccinated,” it added.

The Bench observed that without addressing this issue, the state cannot seek to impose conditions upon the citizens so as to compel them to get vaccinated, be it by holding out a threat or by putting them at a disadvantage for failing to get vaccinated. Restraining people who are yet to get vaccinated from opening institutions, organizations, factories, shops, etc., or denying them their livelihood by linking their employment, be it NREGA job card holders or workers in Government or private projects, to their getting vaccinated would be illegal on the part of the State, if not unconstitutional. Such a measure would also trample upon the freedom of the individual to get vaccinated or choose not to do so, the court said.

Additional Advocate General, Manipur S Rupachandra would seek to impress upon this court that the impugned notification is merely an expression of intention by the government as to what it proposes to do once relaxation of the curfew/containment zone orders is resorted to. He asserted that the voiced intention of the Government will not be acted upon till such event comes to pass and pray that he may be given an opportunity to file a reply properly explaining the situation.

Posting the matter on July 28, the court directed the Manipur government to file the reply in the Registry on or before July 27, 2021, after service of an advance copy thereof to the counsel opposite so as to enable filing of a rejoinder, if necessary.

Online petition launched against ‘forced vaccination in Manipur’

Meanwhile, an online petition has been started against the June 30 notification titled “Priority to vaccinated persons” issued by home department, Manipur government. The petition on — Stop forced vaccination in Manipur — was addressed to the chief minister of Manipur.

As per the petition, the State home department’s notification says “… it has been considered prudent to prioritize opening of institutions, organizations, factories, shops, markets, private offices etc. where its employees and workers are COVID vaccinated.”

The petition stated, four days earlier, chief minister N Biren Singh announced that the state would start opening up offices and shops. However, only those who have vaccination certificates would be allowed to come out and carry out buying and selling activities.

Based on these statements, many government agencies and local COVID Task Force units have been threatening and coercing the public to get themselves vaccinated. Some concerned citizens are against this vaccine for some reason or want to wait till their doubts are cleared, it said.

“This stance is informed by a lack of transparency in Adverse Effects Following Immunisation data, and the multiple contradicting opinions regarding safety and efficacy of these vaccines from scientists and doctors worldwide. Narratives around the COVID crisis have kept changing in the last one and a half years and it is natural for some people to have different understanding or to want to take time following the developments.” It said.

“We see such coercion in the way of making vaccination compulsory or placing restrictions on unvaccinated persons as excessive unjust use of force. It is in contravention of our constitutional right to life, liberty, and bodily autonomy. Recent orders of the Gauhati High Court and Meghalaya High Court also upheld the right of the people to refuse vaccination and instructed the Mizoram and Meghalaya Government to revoke their orders placing such restrictions,” said the petition.

Giving the reason for signing the petition, one Korou Khundrakpam from Imphal West said, “Right to life and liberty is the most fundamental natural right. Based on this all other rights that we enjoy are derived. One may feel that the gravity of the crisis at hand warrants such surrender of right. But look at history, it has always been ’emergencies’ such as this which served as an excuse to strip people of their rights. Some were specifically created as means to the end. The biggest crisis will be to live in a totalitarian state with no recognition of basic rights. And the world is heading towards this future with warp speed. Unless we resist.”

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