The Kerala High Court on Monday suggested that the Centre use the excess funds that it got from the Reserve Bank of India to provide free coronavirus vaccines, especially to the poor, Live Law reported. Several states are facing crippling shortages of doses amid the massive second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Kerala High Court made the suggestions while hearing petitions challenging the Centre’s Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National Covid-19 Vaccination Strategy. Under this policy, vaccine manufacturers will have to allot 50% of the doses produced to the Centre. They will be allowed to sell the remaining 50% to state governments and private organisations in the open market. The prices for the states are higher.

The RBI had on on Friday said it will transfer a surplus of Rs 99,122 crore to the central government for the nine-month accounting period that ended March 31. The amount, over 85% higher than the Budget estimate, is expected to help the central government with its expenses as the country battles the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Kerala High Court cited a media report on the surplus amount. “On Saturday, in the Indian Express, it is reported that RBI has given 99,000 crores as dividend to the Centre,” it said, according to Bar and Bench. “More than half than projected in the budget…you have got about Rs 54 crores more. [Approximately] 137 crore people x (Rs) 150 or let us take it as (Rs) 250 [the price of one vaccine dose for the Centre]. That is only 34,000 crores. So what is the problem with you giving more [vaccine doses to the states]?”

Follow today’s updates on the Covid-19 crisis here.

Standing counsel K Rajkumar, appearing for the Centre, said vaccination was a policy matter. He also informed the court that Kerala had been given about 8 lakh vaccines free of cost

Justice Vinod Chandran said: “You [the Centre] have additional income from RBI, why don’t you use it for this purpose? Is it not the right time for you to do it? We are asking you to ask your policymakers.”

Advocate Prashanth Sugathan, appearing for one of the petitioners, told the court that private companies were giving vaccines but the people were not getting them from government channels, according to Bar and Bench. “That is because state governments have to compete with each other,” he added.

Justice Chandran said this is where the Centre should step in. “Now you [the Centre] have excess from RBI,” he said. “Why don’t you give it [vaccines], at least to the poor?”

The court said now is not the time to “look at federalism and all that”. “Why don’t you put it [the court’s suggestion] to your ministry and come back?” it asked the Centre’s counsel. The matter will be heard next week.

All adults above the age of 18 were made eligible to get vaccinated in India from May 1, but the acute shortage of doses has curtailed the country’s inoculation drive that began from January.

Several states are seeking to procure vaccines through global tenders or by approaching manufacturers directly amid shortages of doses across the country. However, American vaccine maker Moderna has refused to supply doses to both Delhi and Punjab directly.

India on Monday reported 2,22,315 new coronavirus cases, taking the infection tally to 2,67,52,447 since the pandemic first broke out in January 2020. The toll climbed by 4,454 to 3,03,720. With this, India is now the third country in the world, after the United States and Brazil, to log over 3 lakh deaths.