GUWAHATI: The Meghalaya High Court has held that vaccination by force or through coercive methods vitiates the very fundamental purpose of the welfare attached to it.
The observation was made following multiple hearings of a PIL, filed suo motu, after the Deputy Commissioners (District Magistrates) in the state had issued separate orders which said shopkeepers, vendors, cabbies etc would be allowed to resume their businesses only if vaccinated.
A two-judge bench of Chief Justice Biswanath Somadder and Justice HS Thangkhiew agreed that vaccination is the need of the hour to defeat the Covid virus but said the issue also involved certain fundamental principles -- whether vaccination can be made mandatory and whether such mandatory action can adversely affect the right of a citizen to earn a livelihood.
"Article 21 encompasses within its fold, right to health, as a fundamental right. By that same analogy, right to healthcare, which includes vaccination, is a fundamental right. However, vaccination by force or being made mandatory by adopting coercive methods vitiates the very fundamental purpose of the welfare attached to it," the court observed.
"It impinges on the fundamental right(s) as such, especially when it affects the right to means of livelihood which makes it possible for a person to live…Right to life includes right to the means of livelihood. Any action of the State which is in absolute derogation of this basic principle is squarely affected by Article 19(1)(g)," the court said.
It said although, Article 19(6) prescribes "reasonable restrictions" in the "interest of general public", the present instance was exemplary and clearly distinguishable.
"It affects an individual's right, choice and liberty significantly more than affecting the general public as such, or for that matter, the latter's interests being at stake because of the autonomous decision of an individual human being of choosing not to be vaccinated. It is more about striking the right balance between an individual's right vis-à-vis the right of the public at large," the court held.
It further said that another pivotal question that emerged was whether any notification or order, issued by the state government or its authority, can be understood as a prescription by "law" for the purposes of prohibiting fundamental rights.
In the interest of the public, the court directed all shops, establishments, local taxis, auto-rickshaws, maxi cabs and buses to display prominently at a conspicuous place a sign reading "vaccinated" or "not vaccinated" to indicate the vaccination status of their staff.
Meanwhile, the Assam government directed all heads of departments to ascertain the vaccination status of its employees before releasing their salaries following the observation that many of them had not yet taken the vaccine.
"...Non-vaccination of such frontline government servants may give rise to the possibility of further spread of the virus which, in turn, may endanger the lives of common citizens, especially the vulnerable groups like infants, pregnant women etc," an order issued by Chief Secretary Jishnu Barua reads.