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The BJP’s Piyush Goyal, who is the Union Minister of Commerce and Industry, claimed at a CII meet that India “plans to produced 5 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines next year.” For that to really fructify, and for our concern about “equitable availability at affordable prices for vaccines, ” PSUs might be have to play a significant part.

Cut to the Supreme Court.
According to a plea filed in the apex court, in October 2016 the government had agreed in the SC to “take action to revive” vaccine public sector units. Post-wave-one-and-wave-two, the Solicitor-General says in Court that it is a matter of policy, implying that it is not to a matter for the courts one presumes.
Now that the SC benched headed by Just D.Y. Chandrachud has said that it “would like to know what the policy” is, we might hear from the Union Government their plans for the revival of the remaining few PSUs, even as the government works on a massive privatisation drive.

The situation as it stand is:

17 public sector units were shut down by 2005.
Only seven were operational by 2007, of which two are state-level PSUs and five are Central-level PSUs.

State-level PSUs:
King Institute of Preventative Medicine (KIPM, Chennai) has not produced vaccines in two decades
Haffkine Institute (commercial arm Haffkine Biopharmaceuticals Co Ltd, Mumbai) is the only state-level unit that is functional.

Central-level PSUs:
Bharat Biologicals and Immunologicals Ltd
Indian Institute of Immunologicals
Central Research Institute of India in Kasauli
Pasteur Institute of India in Coonoor
BCG Vaccine Laboratory in Chennai

Any serious attempt to produce 5 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines must surely involve a plan that involves public sector units that have been in the business for decades, if not more. The need to revive these units goes beyond the immediate and the ideological. The pandemic should have taught us that much at least.

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