Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Monday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking free COVID-19 jabs for the 18-44 age group, saying the state was unable to incur nearly Rs 1,000 crore on it due to stressed resources.
CM Hemant Soren said that the procurement of COVID vaccines by States on their own during the ongoing pandemic "stands against the principle of cooperative federalism".
"The State of Jharkhand like other States has always received vaccines free of cost from the central government for all other programs such as Pulse Polio and Routine Immunisation. This is probably for the first instance in the history of Independent India that the States have been mandated to procure vaccines on their own. Such a mandate under the ongoing challenging and unprecedented circumstances where the entire nation is struggling for over a year, stands against the principle of cooperative federalism," wrote Chief Minister Soren in his letter to the Prime Minister.
"In this regard, it is pertinent to note that the rates specified by the central government for procurement of vaccines by the State for the age cohort of 18 to 44 years are significantly higher than the rates at which vaccine is being procured by the central government for the beneficiaries in the age cohort of 45 years and above. This dichotomy will not stand the scrutiny of reasonable classification under the fundamental principles of the Constitution of India," he said.
The chief minister said the financial burden on the State for vaccination of the age cohort of 18-44 years is likely to be more than Rs 1100 crore considering 1.57 crore eligible beneficiaries. With the vaccine being available for the age cohort of 12-18 years and below, the mentioned financial burden will further increase by around Rs 1000 crore. It will be "extremely difficult" to spare as many resources from the resource pool of the State which is already stressed during COVID-19 times.
According to Soren, the inherent diversity of India creates various peculiarities specific to the concerned states. Every State has its own high-risk groups depending on the geographical, cultural and traditional heterogeneity. As such, a common framework defined by the central government with regard to prioritizing beneficiaries across the country is not desirable.
"It is requested to provide to the State free vaccine for beneficiaries of all age groups and also give us the freedom to define priorities for vaccination coverage. This would help us in achieving the target of full vaccination in a timely manner which would go a long way in ensuring effective tackling of the anticipated third wave. The State and the people of Jharkhand shall be ever grateful for your kind support under such difficult times," urged the Chief Minister.
Jharkhand's COVID-19 tally soared to 3,36,943 on Monday as 703 more people tested positive for the infection, while 19 fresh fatalities pushed the state's coronavirus death toll to 4,977.
(With inputs from Agencies)