In an interview with Mitali Mukherjee for The Wire, Rajya Sabha Member and former finance minister and Minister for Home Affairs, P. Chidambaram said the Modi government had completely missed the arithmetic on vaccine requirements in India.
He also hit out at the policy of dual pricing and criticised the move to push states out on their own and ask them to negotiate prices with manufacturers. Chidambaram said while he was a believer in the principles of free market, the government’s defence in the Supreme Court of dual pricing by saying it created “liberalised, market driven” rates was flawed.
On the costs involved for vaccination, the former finance minister said it was not even a point of concern – assuming a price of Rs 175 per dose, every individual could be vaccinated at a cost of Rs 350 per vaccine. In order to vaccinate a population of 100 crore, the government would require Rs 35,000 crore. In fact, he added, that if additional money was required, the finance minister could approach the parliament and there would be no resistance in clearing additional funds.
Responding to the debate on compulsory licencing, Chidambaram said there wasn’t even any need to invoke compulsory licencing, merely the threat of it would have made manufacturers amenable to voluntary licencing, which would have ramped up both supply and availability for India.
Drawing broader outcomes for the economy, the former finance minister said that the financial year was a washout and it was clear things were going to remain very difficult till September, even after that the situation remained murky. Several sectors like autos and travel that had shown some recovery were hit badly. In the rural space, while agriculture would continue to be a source of support, non-agricultural growth was likely to be hit hard.
Conceding that the Congress Party’s performance in the recent assembly elections was deeply disappointing, Chidambaram however said it was still to be seen whether the recent West Bengal results were a big win for federal governance. He said PM Modi grabbed power and worked towards centralisation and only decentralised when the situation was out of control, which is why he was avoiding taking a decision on a nationwide lockdown.