There is no question of anyone being left out in the Covid-19 vaccination drive due to "digital divide" and the Co-WIN system is designed to provide required flexibilities to states and Union Territories to overcome barriers to access, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Saturday.
In an affidavit filed in the apex court in the suo motu case on distribution of essential supplies and services during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Centre said there is "no impediment" on vaccination based on availability or otherwise of digital device or internet.
Online registration, prior self-registration and booking of appointment on Co-WIN is also not mandatory to avail vaccination services, it stated.
A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud had in its May 31 order observed that a vaccination policy exclusively relying on digital portal Co-WIN for inoculating those aged between 18 to 44 years would be unable to meet its target of universal immunisation due to "digital divide" and marginalised sections of society would bear the brunt of "accessibility barrier".
"It is submitted that the Co-WIN system is inclusive and has been designed to provide the necessary features and the required flexibilities to states/UTs and their officials to overcome the challenges posed by various state specific problems and barriers to access," the government said in its affidavit.
"There is no question of any person being left out due to any digital divide. Thus, it may not be correct to conclude that the technology or methodology adopted is resulting in exclusion of some persons or any particular class," it said.
It is submitted that, as on June 23, that of the 32.22 crore beneficiaries registered on Co-WIN, 19.13 crore (59 per cent) beneficiaries have been registered in the onsite — walk-in or non-digital — mode, it said.
The affidavit said if a person having no access to either internet or digital devices or does not wish to self-register wants to be vaccinated, he or she can visit the nearest vaccination centre where a health worker would register him in the device of the respective centre on the Co-WIN platform and the person would be vaccinated.
It said that all the necessary features to ensure that every eligible individual has access to vaccination, regardless of any of physical, digital or socio-economic barriers to access, have been incorporated in Co-WIN.
The affidavit said that on-site registrations, also known as walk-in registration, and vaccinations have been permitted for all beneficiaries through a May 23 circular.
"Therefore, on and from May 23, 2021, any person above the age group of 18 years can visit any vaccination centre and get vaccinated without himself/herself pre-registering on Co-WIN platform," it said.
The affidavit said it is understandable that rural and tribal areas in the country have lower access to digital mediums and internet, and the Centre is fully cognisant of the same.
The Centre, being aware of the situation, has adopted various other modes to provide citizens with the vaccine in such areas, it said.
The affidavit said that "as reported by states on Co-WIN, in the period from May 1, 2021 till June 23, 2021, out of the total 1,31,204 Covid Vaccination Centres (CVCs) providing vaccination services, 33,342 are operated at sub-health centres, 28,168 at the primary health centres and 9,932 at the community health centres, amounting to 54.45 per cent of the total vaccination centres".
"The CVCs at the sub-health centres, the primary health centres and the community health centres are in rural areas," it said and also mentioned that a feature for tagging vaccination centres as rural or urban has been introduced in Co-WIN with effect from June 5.
"Out of the total 1,24,969 vaccination centres so far classified by state governments on Co-WIN as rural centre or urban centre, 93,044 vaccination centres i.e. 74.45 per cent, are located in rural areas," it said.
The affidavit said that according to data available on Co-WIN, as on June 23, out of the total 29.68 crore vaccine doses recorded on Co-WIN, 23.12 crore doses (nearly 78 per cent of all vaccine doses) have been administered through onsite or walk-in vaccination.
It said that as on June 23, 1,50,988 persons without identity cards have been vaccinated as per the prevailing system.
The affidavit said that "39,01,126 beneficiaries have been vaccinated through the functionality of near-to-home vaccination sessions, introduced recently".
It said that according to data available on Co-WIN, as on June 23, vaccination per million population in tribal districts is better than the national average.
The government in its affidavit said that "97 out of 176 tribal districts are performing better than all India vaccination coverage" and added that "more walk-in vaccinations are happening in tribal districts as compared to the national average".
It said in order to further improve access for citizens as well as field functionaries operating the Co-WIN portal, multi-lingual citizen and user interfaces are now available in 12 languages on Co-WIN, including Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam, Telugu, Oriya, Gurumukhi, Bengali and English.
The affidavit said that several measures have already been taken to improve access for those who are visually challenged.
"Directions are given to all district level officers for providing assistance to differently-abled persons for matter related to Covid-19," it said, adding that "in addition, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has recently issued directions to states/UTs to facilitate differently-abled persons and senior citizens in Covid vaccination".