The Delhi High Court on Wednesday said prima facie there is weight in the claim of the Bar Council of Delhi (BCD) to declare all people associated with the judicial functioning, including judges, court staff and lawyers as "frontline workers" so that they could receive COVID-19 vaccination on priority and without limitations of their age or physical condition.
The high court, which initiated on its own a public interest litigation on the basis of a communication received from the BCD, said there is a clear pattern emerging that the number of COVID-19 positive cases increases with greater intermingling and congregation of people.
It said premises and court rooms of the Delhi High Court, which is scheduled to resume physical functioning from March 15, and some of the district courts are air-conditioned and with increased footfall, there is likelihood of the rate of infection amongst those who attend the courts spiking, once the full-fledged physical functioning of courts in Delhi resumes.
A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli, in an order made available late night, said it would be necessary to ascertain the availability of the two vaccinations in use in India, namely COVISHIELD and COVAXIN manufactured by Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech.
The court issued notices to the secretary of Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, principal secretary of Delhi government's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech for Thursday before the Chief Justice.
The bench noted that to deal with the raging COVID-19 pandemic and to provide protection to the masses, the central and state governments have rolled out the vaccination drive.
It noted that in the first round, frontline workers, particularly of the medical community were covered, and other frontline workers such as the police force have already been covered.
From March 1, the government has initiated the programme to vaccinate people above 60 years of age and those having the specified comorbidities falling in the age group of 45-60 years, it said.
The court referred to a communication sent to the chief justice by BCD Chairman Ramesh Gupta requesting that appropriate directions be issued to the concerned administrative/ medical authorities to make available necessary infrastructure in court premises, particularly in medical dispensaries and other appropriate places conducive for vaccination, for vaccinating the members of the judiciary, employees/staff working in the courts and advocates who throng the courts to attend their cases, by treating them as frontline workers.
The communication has been marked by the chief justice to Justice Sanghi, the order noted.
The bench said that the need of the hour is to vaccinate the masses, in view of the raging pandemic, on a war footing so as to secure the life and health of all those who step out of their homes to attend to their avocations and professions.
"Courts, by their very nature, are places which have very high density congregations of people on a daily basis. Hundreds and thousands of cases are listed in any given court complex every day. Apart from judges, the court staff - which is substantial, and advocates - who have to attend to their respective cases, and a large number of litigants visit courts in which their cases are listed, on a daily basis," it said.
It added that since the cases listed on any given day are mostly different from those listed on the previous or the next day, the litigants are also different and this peculiarity exposes the judges, court staff and the lawyers to the risk of contracting the disease.
"In the light of the aforesaid, prima facie, it appears to us that there is weight in the claim made by the Bar Council of Delhi for declaring all persons associated with the judicial functioning, which includes the judges, the court staff and the lawyers as frontline workers, so that they could receive vaccination on priority, and without limitations of their age or physical condition," it said.
The bench observed that the comorbidities enlisted by the government to accommodate people falling in the age group of 45 to 60 years are serious conditions from which the judges, staff and advocates may or may not be suffering with but this does not mean that the risk of their contracting the disease and suffering serious health issues, including fatality, does not exist.
"To examine the aforesaid aspects, we are inclined to register this communication of Ramesh Gupta, Chairman, Bar Council of Delhi dated March 1 as a Public Interest Litigation," the bench said.