A Gujarat high court interim order restrained IAF from coercive action against a corporal refusing to get inoculated. Does this queer the pitch for employers intent on compulsory vaccination? And Assam government is ascertaining vaccination status of frontline workers before releasing salaries. No central guideline has made vaccination compulsory. For good reason. Coercion has often triggered counterproductive social behaviour. Although mandatory vaccination has precedents too: states like Odisha, J&K, Bengal had laws backing compulsory smallpox vaccination.
Do we need to have a complicated, unsolvable debate between personal liberty and the greater good? Not necessarily. First, note that freedom of conscience under Constitution’s Article 25 can’t override public health. More prosaically, employers are responsible for employee safety. An unvaccinated employee poses a risk. Even governments as paymasters are in the same boat here. Claiming any anti-vax fundamental right in workplaces is plain wrong. The US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has allowed employers to mandate vaccination. GoI should offer clarity like this, too. And similar arguments can be made for commercial spaces and education institutes. A market association can ask all shop-owners and shop employees to get vaccinated – because all stakeholders must recognise the negative externality of being unvaccinated during a pandemic.
But this is wholly different from blanket state diktats on people. Meghalaya HC on Thursday held illegal administrative orders mandating shopkeepers, taxi drivers, vendors etc to get vaccinated before resuming business. Essentially, the court was saying leave it to customers and service providers to sort the issue out. Or, as we said, commercial bodies relevant to these professions can make the rule. So, there is no need for repeated debates and, hopefully, courts will recognise this. The state needn’t make jabs compulsory. If a citizen wants to remain unvaccinated, that is his right, but he must then recognise that it will not be a costless decision.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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