The Congress said on Tuesday that the BJP-led government was running away from taking responsibility under its modified vaccine policy which "overburdens the states, encourages vaccine manufacturers to profiteer" and will worsen the inequality between states as well between poor and rich Indians.
Addressing the media here, Congress leader P Chidambaram said modified vaccine policy is regressive and inequitable in crucial respects.
He said the central government has finally acknowledged the problem of vaccine shortage and other deficiencies in the current vaccine policy and "nowhere in the world has any government left its vaccination programme to be determined by the vagaries of market forces, and for good reason".
"While we welcome the positive changes made to the policy, we are constrained to point out that the devil is in the details. The details show that the modified vaccine policy is, in crucial respects, regressive and inequitable," he said.
He said 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 health care 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 central government'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 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," he said.
The former union minister said 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 Centre is paving the way to 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 deployed," he said.
Chidambaram said 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 Dr. Manmohan Singh in his letter to the Prime Minister, the modified vaccine policy does not provide funds for capital investment to the vaccine manufacturers to ramp up production. Furthermore, the modified 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," he said.
The Congress leader said that the modified policy allows for import of foreign-made approved vaccines, there is 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 not clear if the central government will take the initiative to import foreign-made vaccines and distribute them among the states," he said.
"We hope that the five points made by us above in a spirit of constructive cooperation at this time of grave national crisis will be considered seriously by the Central Government," he added.
Congress general secretary Ajay Maken cautioned the government that when the youth come forward from May 1 for vaccination, a situation of chaos may arise.
The government on Monday announced that everyone above the age of 18 from will be eligible to take vaccine from May 1 and decided to make pricing, procurement, eligibility and administration of vaccines open and flexible.
( With inputs from ANI )
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