Calling for universal free vaccination against COVID-19, the Congress Monday said this goal has not been achieved as people would still have to pay for jabs at private hospitals despite the Union government changing its the immunisation policy on Monday. The opposition party's statement came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the Union government will provide free coronavirus vaccines to states and union territories for inoculation of all above 18 from June 21.
In an address to the nation, Modi also announced that the Union government has decided to buy 75% of jabs from vaccine makers, including 25% of the state quota, and give it for free to state governments, while private sector hospitals can continue to procure the remaining 25% but cannot charge more than Rs 150 per dose over the pre-fixed price.
"One simple question - If vaccines are free for all, why should private hospitals charge for them?" Congress leader Rahul Gandhi asked. The Congress also sought to credit the Supreme Court for the change in the Union governmentâ€™s vaccination policy and said the announcement came after the apex court reprimanded it and sought an affidavit on the inoculation drive.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, "The prime minister is guilty of endangering the lives of Indians by repeatedly changing the (vaccination) policy and instead of accusing the states, he should be tendering an apology for endangering people's lives." He alleged that the government has brought these changes in its vaccination policy after it was reprimanded by the Supreme Court. He alleged that the PM is "Pulling the wool over someone's eyes", as his government has ignored and rejected the demand made by several Congress leaders for universal free vaccination.
"The policy is also flawed even now," he alleged, asking why a middle class person, a salaried employee or a small trader or shopkeeper has to still pay for vaccines in private hospitals. Some states had gone to the apex court against the Union governmentâ€™s vaccination policy alleging that it was not uniform.
Surjewala said the Modi government has changed its vaccine policy thrice -- on January 16, May 1 and now on Monday. Accusing the prime minister of endangering the lives of Indians, he asked if he would take responsibility. "Why burden the middle class and the salaried people with payments in private hospitals," he asked. "Why not transfer Rs 6,000 in the accounts of every poor considering there have been two crore job losses in the second wave of coronavirus," he asked.
Congress leader and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge claimed, "PM Narendra Modi has been forced to change the vaccination policy of procurement after the intervention of the opposition and SC." "The question still remains if the Government has enough doses to vaccinate the most vulnerable people by July as it plans. Where is the blueprint for it," he asked.
Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleged that the government has changed its policy under pressure from the Supreme Court and not on its own. Surjewala claimed that at the current vaccination rate with the average between January 16 and June 7 being only 15.46 lakh jabs per day, it will take 1,091 days, or till May 2024, to inoculate all.
"Then, how will you vaccinate 100 crore people by December 2021, as promised," he asked, alleging that only 4.61 crore have been fully vaccinated in the last six months, which is 3.28% of the population.
He cited the example of America which has vaccinated about 41-42% of its population with both doses, England 35-36%, Brazil 9.5-10% but India is still standing at 3.28%, asking who is responsible.
The Congress has been demanding free vaccination for all and has urged the Union government to procure the jabs and provide them to states. The Congress on its official Twitter handle said, "Modi ji - stop with the tokenism, it will not heal the deep wounds you've inflicted on our nation. Instead - apologise and not give lectures".
A Congress Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan, said PM Modi should inform which states had demanded that vaccines should be procured and provided for 18-44 years age group.
Gehlot also said that many states, including Rajasthan, had moved the Supreme Court against the Union government's vaccination policy and the result of which is that the prime minister had to change it. Some Congress leaders like Anand Sharma and Shashi Tharoor welcomed the PM's decision to give coronavirus vaccine free to all above 18, but slammed the government for sticking to a "flawed" vaccination policy for long which the party alleged led to "tens of thousands of deaths".
"Prime Minister's announcement on 'free vaccines for all' is a welcome change of policy. Finally a realisation of a flawed policy that led to the collapse of the national vaccination, after the govt resisted for months appeals for equitable and universal vaccination.
"This is time for honest reflection. I wish this announcement was made in January. The cost of the delay has been unbearable for India as it resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. There can be no compensation for human suffering," Sharma said.
Jairam Ramesh said, 'The Prime Minister inflicted a huge cost on the people of India before accepting the Opposition's demand for centralised procurement and free vaccination for 18-44 year olds.' "Humility and reaching out will not hurt him," Ramesh said.