The Delhi High Court on Friday directed the Centre to release its due of Rs 14 crore, along with the interest amount to pharmaceutical company Panacea Biotec, for manufacturing coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V if it obtains permission from the authorities to produce the jab in India, The Indian Express reported.

“We are a bit anguished with the way things have transpired during the second wave,” the court said. “Vaccine shortage is hitting everybody.”

A division bench of Justices Manmohan and Najmi Waziri was hearing a plea filed by Panacea Biotec for release of the money awarded to it in 2019 by an arbitral tribunal in a 2010 case related to the manufacture of influenza vaccines. In its petition, the company submitted that it would be deprived of the opportunity to manufacture the Sputnik V vaccine if the arbitration amount of Rs 14 crore, along with 12% annual interest since 2012, was not paid by the central government.

“It will not be an exaggeration today that human race [is] in general facing an existential crisis,” the court said while allowing the petition, reported Live Law. “Though according to government of India, all best ways to vaccinate the public has been made. Yet there is a shortage of vaccine in India.”

The Centre, meanwhile, had opposed the plea earlier and said that the manufacturing of Sputnik V will not be beneficial to India as Panacea will supply the vaccines to the international market, the Hindustan Times reported. The Centre also said that the company had not even received the licence to produce the vaccine.

The court had taken exception to the Centre’s submission and commented that there was “untapped potential” for making vaccines in India and that “some people should be charged for manslaughter” for sitting on it.

The vaccine shortage

Several states are facing a shortage of vaccines, which has severely hampered India’s inoculation drive. Many of them have sought to procure vaccines through global tenders or by approaching manufacturers directly. However, some administrations, including in Delhi and Kerala, have said that global vaccine makers refuse to coordinate with them.

Despite a glaring vaccine shortage that began in early April, the Centre has consistently denied any shortages whatsoever. On April 19, the Union government had announced the next phase of its vaccine policy, by which states would be allowed to buy vaccine stock as well, since vaccinations were being opened up to all adults over 18 years of age from May 1.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday had called the Union government’s vaccine policy “prima facie arbitrary and irrational”, while asking it for procurement details.