The Congress has alleged that the Union government is running away from its responsibilities and the modified vaccine policy will overburden the states and lead to profiteering. Addressing a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Congress leaders P Chidambaram, Jairam Ramesh and Ajay Maken said that the Union Government has finally acknowledged the problem of vaccine shortage and other deficiencies in the current vaccine policy.
"Under the modified vaccine policy the Union Government is running away from taking responsibility; it overburdens the states, encourages vaccine manufacturers to profiteer, and will worsen the inequality between states as well as between poor and rich Indians. Nowhere in the world has any government left its vaccination programme to be determined by the vagaries of market forces, and for good reason," said Chidambaram.
The Congress said that under the modified vaccine policy, the states will bear the responsibility and cost of vaccinating the poorer sections who are below the age of 45 years and are neither healthcare workers nor frontline workers, as defined by the central government.
The central government appears to have abdicated its responsibility towards the poor by excluding them from the Centre's vaccination programme. In a country where the median age is 28 years, to leave those who are below the age of 45 years out of a public-funded programme is, to say the least, callous, the party said.
The migrant workers who live and work in other states and are the lifeblood of the economy of our cities will be the worst affected by this directive, the leaders added.
The party alleged that by liberalizing the pricing of vaccine, and by not fixing a price for states at the same rate as it is available to the Union Government, the government is paving the way for unhealthy price bidding and profiteering.
States with limited resources will be at a considerable disadvantage. States that are already weighed down by shrinking GST revenues, lower tax devolution, reduced grants-in-aid and increased borrowing would have to bear this additional burden. Meanwhile, nobody knows where the thousands of crores of rupees collected under PM-CARES are being used.
The Union government's vaccine policy refuses to grasp that the problem is not only of production, but also of financing, procurement and distribution of the vaccines, and of coordination with the states. Ignoring the suggestion of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his letter to PM Narendra Modi, the modified vaccine policy does not provide funds for capital investment to the vaccine manufacturers to ramp up production.
The party alleged that the modified policy does not invoke the provisions in law for compulsory licensing to allow other domestic vaccine manufacturers to produce the approved vaccines and augment the total supply. While the modified policy allows for import of foreign-made approved vaccines, there is no clarity whether any foreign manufacturer has agreed to export their vaccine and, if so, whether adequate quantities have been promised to be supplied on an agreed schedule. It is also not clear if the central government will take the initiative to import foreign-made vaccines and distribute them among the states.