The Supreme Court on Wednesday evening directed the centre to submit a report comparing domestic and international prices of Covid vaccines currently available in India. It also directed the centre to submit a number of documents, including a complete "purchase history of vaccines".
A three-member bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, LN Rao and S Ravindra Bhat also questioned the centre on the "digital divide" - a reference to concerns that requiring people to register on CoWIN would hamper vaccination efforts in rural areas, where access to the internet is unreliable.
The centre has also been asked to "place on record a roadmap of projected availability of vaccines till December 31, 2021". The court will take up the case again on June 30.
At present only two of three coronavirus vaccines in use in India are also sold in other countries - the AstraZeneca-Oxford University shot (manufactured in India as Covishield) and Russia's Sputnik V, which was approved in early April and is to be rolled out in the second week of this month.
Covishield is sold to states at Rs 300 per dose and private hospitals at Rs 600 per dose. Sputnik V is to be sold at Rs 1,195 per dose when rolled out at Apollo Hospitals across the country next week.
Covishield is also sold to the centre - but at a reduced rate of Rs 150 per dose.
The third vaccine in use in India - Bharat Biotech's Covaxin - is not sold on the global market.
The difference in prices, coupled with states being required to buy up to 50 per cent of their required doses directly from manufacturers instead of getting it for free from the centre - as was the case when people over the age of 45 were being vaccinated - triggered a massive row.
The opposition Congress even accused the centre of "vaccine profiteering".
The court today pointed out a significant number of the lakhs being infected daily are between 18 and 44, and to ask them to pay while those over 45 got it for free, is "prima facie arbitrary and irrational".
Last week too the court had asked the centre to explain its vaccine pricing policy.
Critics of the centre's vaccination policy have pointed out that many other countries are inoculating all sections of their population for free, with the government bearing all costs.
Several chief ministers have asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take similar steps.
On Monday the court said: "Why has the government left it to manufacturers to fix price of vaccines? Centre has to take over responsibility of one price for the nation."
The court had then also raised the "digital divide" issue, and asked if it is "realistically possible to expect (people) from rural areas to register on CoWIN (digital platform)?"
Vaccine supply, distribution and pricing have emerged as key issues as the centre tries to fulfill its promise of vaccinating the entire country by the end of the year.
Earlier on Wednesday the centre, in an attempt to widen the vaccine net and counter some of these issues, said it would waive bridging trial requirements for some foreign vaccines. Sources said indemnity requests of these vaccines - the Pfizer and Moderna shots - would also be considered.
The centre has also said it expects to have one crore doses available per day, as early as mid-July.