Opposition Parties Say Their Pressure, SC Intervention Forced Centre To Change Vaccine Policy

After Modi announced on Sunday that it would provide free vaccines to everyone above the age of 18, opposition parties said the Centre had finally ditched its 'discriminatory' policy.

New Delhi: After Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday partially rolled back his government’s vaccine policy, opposition parties credited themselves and the Supreme Court’s directives for successfully forcing the Centre to provide free vaccination to all adults.

Modi said that the Centre will provide free coronavirus vaccines to states and union territories for inoculation of all above 18 from June 21. It will purchase 75% of jabs from vaccine makers, including 25% of the state quota, and give it for free to state governments. Private sector hospitals can continue to procure the remaining 25% but cannot charge more than Rs 150 per dose over the pre-fixed price.

The Congress praised the Supreme Court’s intervention, after the top court had described the Centre’s move to charge those between the ages of 18-44 while providing the vaccines free of cost to those above the age of 45 as prima facie arbitrary and irrational.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “The prime minister is guilty of endangering the lives of Indians by repeatedly changing the (vaccination) policy and instead of accusing the states, he should be tendering an apology for endangering people’s lives.”

He alleged that the government has brought these changes in its vaccination policy after it was reprimanded by the Supreme Court.

“The policy is also flawed even now,” he alleged, asking why a middle class person, a salaried employee or a small trader or shopkeeper has to still pay for vaccines in private hospitals.

The new policy cannot be described as universal free vaccination against COVID-19, the Congress said.

“One simple question – If vaccines are free for all, why should private hospitals charge for them?” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi asked.

Leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said, “PM Narendra Modi has been forced to change the vaccination policy of procurement after the intervention of the opposition and SC.”

“The question still remains if the Government has enough doses to vaccinate the most vulnerable people by July as it plans. Where is the blueprint for it,” he asked.

Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury also said that the government had changed its policy under pressure from the Supreme Court.

At current rate, full inoculation won’t happen before May 2024

Surjewala claimed that at the current vaccination rate with the average between January 16 and June 7 being only 15.46 lakh jabs per day, it will take 1,091 days, or till May 2024, to inoculate all.

“Then, how will you vaccinate 100 crore people by December 2021, as promised,” he asked, adding that only 4.61 crore people have been fully vaccinated in the past six months, which is 3.28% of the population.

Some Congress leaders like Anand Sharma and Shashi Tharoor welcomed the move to provide free vaccinations to all above 18, but slammed the government for sticking to a “flawed” vaccination policy for long, which they said led to “tens of thousands of deaths”.

“Prime Minister’s announcement on ‘free vaccines for all’ is a welcome change of policy. Finally a realisation of a flawed policy that led to the collapse of the national vaccination, after the govt resisted for months appeals for equitable and universal vaccination.

“This is time for honest reflection. I wish this announcement was made in January. The cost of the delay has been unbearable for India as it resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. There can be no compensation for human suffering,” Sharma said.

Supreme Court of India. Photo: Pinakpani/CC BY-SA 4.0

Left parties make similar claim

The Left parties also alleged that Prime Minister Modi had “abandoned” his government’s “discriminatory” immunisation policy, “fearing” a Supreme Court directive for universal free vaccination, and under opposition pressure.

“Trying to defend his dubious discriminatory vaccine policy by passing the buck on to State governments. Now Modi abandons his policy, fearing a Supreme Court directive for a free and universal vaccination programme by the Centre,” tweeted CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.

“Thousands of lives were lost as Centre’s poor policy abandoned the people of this country. The Union Government and the BJP must learn to accept responsibility for its failures when people of this country have paid with their lives. This incessant focus on spin and PR is an assault on and insult to the millions who perished in the pandemic,” Yechury said.

CPI general secretary D. Raja alleged while the government ignored the pressure from the opposition parties, it was the Supreme Court that pushed Modi to change his stand.

“The opposition parties, including ours, have been demanding universal, free vaccines and free food grains for the vulnerable. The government did not listen to the opposition and then the Supreme Court had to step in. Vaccination is the government’s responsibility, it is not an act of charity. And Mr Modi must remember this is a collective fight of both the state and the centre,” Raja said.

Yehcury also said that the opposition parties had maintained pressure on the government to stop attempting to blame states run by non-BJP parties over the vaccine issue. He said the Kerala chief minister had written to the PM as early as May 2.

Also Read: Modi Forced to Change Tack But New Vaccine Policy Still Promotes Inequity and Inefficiency

Our request approved: Chief ministers

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh (Congress), Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik (BJD), Tamil Nadu CM M.K. Stalin (DMK), Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan (CPI-M) and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar (JD-U)were among the state leaders who appreciated that the Centre for approving their request to provide free vaccines.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, a vocal critic of Modi, said the prime minister has finally “listened to us” after four months, but the delayed decision has “cost many lives”.

“The well-being of the people of India should’ve been prioritised since the very start of this pandemic. Unfortunately, this delayed decision by PM has already cost many lives. Hoping for a better managed #VaccinationDrive this time that focuses on people & not propaganda!,” the Trinamool Congress chief tweeted.

Amarinder Singh said the move will help Punjab and other states facing problems in sourcing vaccines to ensure early vaccination of their people. “It’ll also bring much-needed pricing parity – a necessity in pandemic times,” he said.

“Every life is precious. No one is safe until everyone is vaccinated. As a nation, we stand united in this fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank PM Shri Narendra Modi ji for making vaccination a national mission,” Patnaik said.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar said the Centre’s decisions are commendable and will help in winning the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Hon. Prime Minister’s declaration that the COVID-19 vaccine will be supplied free of cost to the States from 21 June, is the most appropriate response at this hour. I am happy that our request has been positively responded to by the Prime Minister,” said Pinarayi Vijayan, who is also a CPI(M) politburo member.

BJP welcomes move

The BJP, meanwhile welcomed the decision, saying the move has infused “new strength” in the fight against the virus. “Whenever there is any crisis in the country, our Prime Minister Modi ji has always led the country from the front,” BJP president J.P. Nadda said.

“States were given the freedom to buy vaccines for those in the age group of 18-44 years. But many states were finding it difficult to do so. We are grateful that the prime minister has resolved this issue,” Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath said.

Union minister Smriti Irani said that the move shows the “sensitivity and commitment of this government”.

(With PTI inputs)