HC stays Nagaland govt’s order on compulsory vaccination
The Kohima bench of the Gauhati high court stayed Nagaland’s order asking government employees to get fully vaccinated or produce Covid-19 negative reports every 15 days, adding to a growing debate on the legality of compulsory vaccination and its potential impact on fundamental rights.
The decision, which was made public on Thursday, came on a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the government’s July 17 order issued by the chief secretary. The verdict comes days after a similar judgment by the Manipur high court.
In the order, Nagaland told the staff of the civil secretariat and directorates to get vaccinated or produce Covid-19 negative test reports every 15 days to attend office, failing which the government would stop paying their salaries beyond July 31 and they will be sent on unpaid forced leave.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the government advocates objected on maintainability of the PIL and submitted that no interim order be passed. However, the court ordered a stay on the government order and directed to list the matter on August 18 along with similar other PILs on the same issue.
“Till the returnable date, fees should not be charged for testing from government employees and their salaries should not be stopped for reason of not having being vaccinated,” the court stated. The court also kept the question on maintainability of the PIL open “for the sake of clarity”.
This is the most recent in a raft of similar orders and observations by high courts.
In Meghalaya, the government had made it mandatory for shopkeepers, vendors, local taxi drivers and others to get themselves vaccinated before resuming businesses. On June 23, the Meghalaya high court ruled against any policy that makes vaccination mandatory to exercise other fundamental rights.
The court said mandatory vaccination affects an individual’s right, choice and liberty significantly more than affecting the general public, and impinges upon the autonomous decision of an individual human being of choosing not to be vaccinated.
On July 5, the the Aizwal bench of the Gauhati high court observed that restrictions imposed by the Mizoram government on movement and work of persons who are yet to get vaccinated for Covid-19 were arbitrary and violated the provisions of the Constitution.
The decision came in response to standard operating procedures issued on June 29 by Mizoram, which included a provision that stated, “Only vaccinated individuals of the family members may be detailed for errands within and around localities having significant Covid19 active cases.”
The SOPs also said that only vaccinated persons should be engaged in manning stores, shops or undertaking any works. Store attendants and other employees should be able to produce proof of vaccination. Only those drivers and conductors of commercial passenger vehicles who have been vaccinated should be allowed to operate public transport, according to the SOPs.
On July 13, the Manipur high court ruled that “denying people their livelihood by linking their employment to their getting vaccinated would be illegal on the part of the state”.
The ruling came after a state government notification proposed to prioritise opening of institutions, organisations, factories, shops, markets, private offices etc where its employees and workers are Covid vaccinated. The government order on June 30 also said that it would also apply to Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MNREGA) job card holders and workers of government/private projects.
But the court observed that such measures trample upon the freedom of the individual to get vaccinated or choose not to do so.