While hearing a petition on administering coronavirus vaccines to people of the legal fraternity on a priority basis, the Bombay High Court on Wednesday drew a comparison with the captain of the ship “Titanic”, as portrayed in the Hollywood movie of the same title, Bar and Bench reported.
“Have you seen Titanic? Do you remember the captain of the ship?” Justice Dipankar Datta asked the petitioners. “You remember what he did. He was the last one. I am the captain here. First everyone else gets [the vaccine], then the judiciary gets.”
The court was hearing a plea filed by two Mumbai-based advocates Vaishnavi Gholave and Yogesh Morbale, seeking the preference for members of the judiciary, advocates and their staff. The petitioners submitted that they were aggrieved by “ignorance and negligence” of the central and state governments to declare members of the legal fraternity as “frontline workers”, Bar and Bench reported.
In response to Datta’s Titanic reference, Advocate Yashodeep Deshmukh, representing the petitioners, said that doctors, despite being “captains of their ships”, were getting vaccinated, Live Law reported.
“Not every doctor was facing the risk of the virus,” Deshmukh argued. “Some kept their clinics closed for months. But the state included them because it is a necessity.” He contended that by that logic, magistrates and public prosecutors who interact with police officers and undertrials should also be vaccinated on a priority basis. The plea also said that majority of High Court judges, being above 45 years of age, were at risk of contracting the virus, which would impact dispensation of justice.
“There is a risk, no doubt,” Datta responded, according to Live Law. “But you are asking for a writ of mandamus for the judiciary from the judiciary.”
He further said that the plea was a “selfish” one suggesting that survival was more important under the current scenario, Bar and Bench reported. “You are asking us to hold that judges should be vaccinated first because we are frontline workers?” the judge said. “Why not ask for people who are picking up garbage outside your work? What happens when someone does not survive?”
He then said that the decision on the matter should be left with the government. “Have faith in the Executive,” Datta said. “We have to wear masks, we have to take all precautionary measures. The Executive has done a wonderful job, you must thank them.”
Meanwhile, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, representing the Centre on the matter, said that similar matters were pending in other high courts as well, NDTV reported.
He said that the Delhi High Court had taken suo motu cognisance, saying there was weight in the Bar’s claim to declare people associated with the judiciary as “frontline workers”, Bar and Bench reported. Further, vaccine maker Bharat Biotech has filed an application before the Supreme Court for transferring all such cases to the Supreme Court, Singh said.
The Bombay High Court then posted the matter for further hearing on March 17.
Last month, the Supreme Court had agreed to hear a petition seeking inclusion of lawyers, judges and court staff in the priority list for coronavirus vaccination. The court had sought the Centre’s response in the matter. Notably, vaccination for Supreme Court judges, including those who have retired, and their families, began earlier this month.
On March 1, India began its second phase of vaccination under which people above 60 years of age and those above 45 with co-morbidities, are eligible to receive the shots. India had begun the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines on January 16, with a target of inoculating 30 crore people by July.