New Delhi: The Centre’s responses to RTI requests have led an activist to allege a difference of 6.95 crore doses between vaccines distributed and those received by the Centre, pointing to an inescapable and large discrepancy.
“How is it that the distribution or supply of COVID-19 vaccines by the Centre was more than the doses received by it,” RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra said.
Batra had filed three queries under the Right to Information Act. He received replies from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which gave him data on vaccine procurement.
On going through the replies and comparing it with information put out by the Press Information Bureau and the Ministry of External Affairs earlier, Batra claimed that “the difference between vaccine doses distributed or supplied and received” was a whopping 6.95 crore.
6.6 crore vaccine doses purchased through PM-CARES
In all the three replies, the following paragraph was common.
“Initially, the Government of India through PM-CARES Fund was procuring/procured the COVID-19 vaccines Covishield manufactured by M/s Serum Institute of India (procured 5.6 crores doses) at the unit cost of Rs.210/- including taxes (Rs.200 + 5% GST) and Covaxin, manufactured by M/s Bharat Biotech International Limited (procured 1.0 crores doses) at the unit cost of Rs. 309.75/- including taxes (Rs. 295 + 5% GST).”
In reply to the query filed by Batra on April 10, in which he asked about the availability or procurement per day of COVID-19 vaccines doses by the Centre the Ministry in its reply on April 22 wrote that “at present, Government of India through Union Budget is procuring the COVID-19 vaccines”.
To another query filed on April 17, the Ministry provided more information on the subject on May 2 by stating:
“However, at present Government of India through Union Budget has procured the COVID-19 vaccines (Covishield 10 crore doses and Covaxin 2 crores doses) at the unit cost of Rs. 157.50/- including taxes (Rs.150 + 5% GST).”
“Further, Government of India through Union Budget is procuring the COVID-19 vaccines (Covishield 11 crore doses and Covaxin 5.5 crore doses) at the unit cost of Rs 157.50/- including taxes (Rs 150 + 5% GST).”
The response also stated that “the procurement and vaccination of COVID-19 vaccine is ongoing process”.
Finally, to the last query filed on April 27, the Ministry in its reply on May 7 gave the same reply as the above. It also added:
“For the details of state wise vaccine distribution, percentage wastage, consumption of doses and available balance of doses, you may visit Press Information Bureau, Government of India’s website www.pib.gov.in then go to ‘Home’, ‘All Press Release’, then select ‘Ministry’ (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare), select date, month, year for datewise release/ information.”
On going through the three replies, Batra said: “It can be seen that in the first order a total of 18.6 crore vaccine doses were procured: 15.6 crore doses of Covishield and 3 crore doses of Covaxin.”
He further pointed out that the Ministry of Health in a PIB release issued on May 2 stated that 16.54 crore vaccine doses have been provided to the States and Union Territories free of cost.
Centre received 16.23 crore vaccine doses by May 2
Thereafter, Batra said, the PIB release on May 3 read: “As on date, against the last order of 10 crore doses for supplies of Covishield vaccine, 8.744 crore doses have been delivered till 03.05.2021.”
It added that “As on date against the last order of 02 crore doses for supplies of Covaxin vaccine, 0.8813 crore doses have been delivered till 03.05.2021.”
So in other words, Batra said, this established that while all 6.6 crore vaccines doses procured through PM-CARES Fund had been received, as against the 12 crore doses procured through Union Budget, only (8.744 crore + 0.8813 crore) = 9.6253 crore vaccines doses were received till May 2, 2021.
That, he said, meant that the total vaccine doses received till May 2 were 6.6 crore + 9.6253 crore = 16.23 crore.
As per official data, 23.18 crore vaccine doses were distributed till May 2
Batra said the MEA website link further provided that the total vaccine doses supplied to 95 countries under the category of “Grant, Commercial and COVAX stood at 6.63698 crore (rounded off to 6.64 crore).
Moving ahead, Batra said, as per this data the total vaccine doses supplied till May 2 stood at 23.18 crore and this included 16.54 crore vaccines doses provided to States/UTs free of cost and 6.64 crore vaccines doses supplied to 95 countries.
He therefore asks how it is that the number of vaccine doses distributed or supplied was 23.18 crore when only 16.23 crore had been procured till then.
How is it that the distribution or supply was 6.95 crore doses more than what was received?
Incidentally, the Ministry’s reply to these queries also established that the Centre has so far bought a total of 35.1 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccines for Rs 5,974.50 crore.
The government reply revealed that while 18.6 crore vaccine doses were procured at a cost of Rs 3,375.75 crore, a further order has been placed for purchasing another 16.5 crore doses at a cost of Rs 2,598.75 crore.
Also, while a sum of Rs 1,485.75 crore has been spent from the PM-CARES Fund for the purchase of vaccines, the remaining amount has been spent through the Union Budget.
Batra also filed two follow up RTI applications under life or liberty clause with both the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of External Affairs on May 11, seeking clarification on data of vaccine doses. But there was no response from both the ministries even though under the clause of ‘life or liberty’ a reply is mandated within 48 hours under the Right to Information Act. Despite several reminders, he said, there has been no response.
‘Advance payment made for 12 crore doses’
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has also claimed that it was wrong to say that it did not place any fresh orders for COVID-19 vaccines and the last time it did so was in March 2021 for 10 crore doses of Covishield and 2 crore doses of Covaxin.
It said a 100% advance, amounting to Rs 1732.50 crore (after TDS Rs 1699.50 crore) was released to Serum Institute of India (SII) on April 28 for supply of 11 crore doses of Covishield during May, June and July.
As on date, it said, against the last order of 10 crore doses for supplies of Covishield vaccine, 8.744 crore doses have been delivered till May 3. Additionally, the Ministry said 100% advance of Rs 787.50 crore (after TDS Rs. 772.50 crore) was also released to Bharat Biotech India Ltd on April 28 for purchase of 5 crore Covaxin doses during May, June and July.