On 6 December 2022, the Karnataka High Court refused to provide relief concerning the alleged violation of a private contract for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines.
A private hospital had entered into an agreement with a vaccine developer concerning the purchase of vaccine doses. The price was paid in advance. However, the vaccine was not placed on the market given the lack of approval from the WHO and general negative publicity at that time. When the vaccines were eventually supplied, the hospital claimed that they had expired, but the supplier refused to provide refund. The hospital filed a claim asking for the issuance of a write under Article 226 of the Constitution, which provides that “High Court shall have powers, throughout the territories in relation to which it exercise jurisdiction, to issue to any person or authority, including in appropriate cases, any Government, within those territories directions, orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibitions, quo warranto and certiorari, or any of them, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III and for any other purpose”. On that basis, the hospital asked for a new supply of vaccines.
The court emphasized that the remedy provided by Article 226 is a public law remedy and that, in the examined case, the vaccine supplier did not have a public duty to supply vaccines. The court observed that the hospital could not be considered in any way a public law authority since it did not discharge any public function and, as a private entity, it essentially pursued commercial interests. Since the scope of the writ of mandamus is restricted to disputes concerning public duties, it cannot be applied to the case at hand.
The court pointed out that the hospital could seek monetary compensation by claiming the breach of the contract, thus asking for a private law remedy.