Meghalaya High Court

The Meghalaya High Court on June 23 said that while vaccination against COVID-19 is “an absolute necessity to overcome the global pandemic”, the requirement for vaccination should be a directive and not mandatory.

The court observed that “requirement of vaccination should be directory and not mandatory” even as it clearly and unequivocally stated that “vaccination is the need of the hour”.

Hearing a PIL moved by Registrar General of the Court against the Meghalaya government for making it mandatory for shopkeepers, vendors, local taxi drivers and others to get themselves vaccinated before they can resume their businesses, a division bench of chief justice Biswanath Somadder and justice HS Thangkhiew observed that the advice of the principal secretary to the Government of Meghalaya, Health and Family Welfare department that the orders for vaccination should be seen as ‘persuasive advisory’ and ‘not as a coercion’, was a ‘step in the right direction’.

“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,” the bench noted.

“However, vaccination by force or being made mandatory by adopting coercive methods, vitiates the very fundamental purpose of the welfare attached to it. 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,” the order stated.

The court also stated that the order issued by the deputy commissioner, East Khasi Hills district for all shops and commercial vehicle drivers to display signs of their vaccination status should be complied with, so that the public at large are provided with an option of making an informed choice.

The court also directed all shops/establishments/local taxis/auto rickshaws/maxi cabs and buses to prominently display at a conspicuous place, a sign – Vaccinated – in event of all employees, staff, driver or conductor or helpers are vaccinated and a sign – Not Vaccinated – if they are not vaccinated.

“In the event, any shops/establishments/local taxis/auto-rickshaws/maxi cabs and buses flouts the above directions, the concerned authority of the state shall immediately direct its closure/stoppage of plying,” the court ordered.

On the issue of vaccine hesitancy, the court said the state government should deal with the matter as specified in the new guidelines of the principal secretary (health department) that the people need to be mobilised and convinced to see the impact of the new intervention for greater acceptance among the communities.

“The court shall monitor this issue closely so that the state government is able to overcome the vaccine hesitation problem at the earliest and all eligible persons in Meghalaya are vaccinated well within the timeframe as may be specified by the state,” the court said in its ruling.

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