The Congress on Tuesday welcomed the positive changes made in the vaccine policy on Monday, but faulted it on 5 counts as “regressive, inequitable and callous”, stressing the Centre finally acknowledged the problem of vaccine shortage and other deficiencies in its policy.
Former Union ministers P Chidambaram, Jairam Ramesh and Ajay Maken in an online Press meet said the devil is in the details to show how the Centre has abdicated its responsibility. They underlined “nowhere in the world has any government left its vaccination programme to be determined by the vagaries of market forces as done by the Modi government.”
In a prepared statement, they said the Centre is not only running away from taking responsibility, but its modified vaccine policy “overburdens the states, encourages vaccine manufacturers to profiteering, and will worsen the inequalities between states and between poor and rich.
They urged the Centre to consider seriously the points by them in a spirit of constructive cooperation at this time of grave national crisis.
The five issues highlighted by the Congress leaders are:
1. The states will have to bear the responsibility and cost of vaccinating the poor below 45 years. In a country where the median age is 28, to leave those below 45 years out of a public-funded programme is, to say the least, callous. The migrants who live and work in other states and are the lifeblood of the economy of our cities will be the worst-hit by the directive.
2. By liberalising the pricing of vaccine, and by not fixing a price for states at the same rate as available to the Centre, it is paving the way to unhealthy price bidding and profiteering. States with limited resources will be disadvantaged. States already weighed down by shrinking GST revenues, lower tax devolution, reduced grants-in-aid and increased borrowings would have to bear this additional burden. Nobody knows where thousands of crores of rupees collected under PM-CARES are being deployed.
3. The vaccine policy refuses to grasp the problem is not only of production, but of financing, procurement and distribution of the vaccines, and coordination with the states. Ignoring the suggestion of Manmohan Singh in his letter to the PM, the modified vaccine policy does not provide funds for capital investment to the manufacturers to ramp up production.
4. The new policy does not invoke the provisions in law for compulsory licensing to allow other domestic vaccine manufacturers to manufacture the approved vaccines and augment total supply.
5. It allows for import of foreign-made approved vaccines, but no clarity whether any foreign manufacturer has agreed to export its vaccine and, if so, whether adequate quantities have been promised to be supplied on an agreed schedule. It is also unclear if the Centre will take the initiative to import foreign-made vaccines and distribute them among the states.