Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on Monday on the COVID-19 situation in India and said that the Union government will take over the vaccination drive to vaccinate the 18-44 age group along with the over-45 age group in the country. From June 21, the Union government will vaccinate those above the age of 18 for free. Modi added that the Union government will buy 75% of the vaccines produced in the country from the makers and distribute them to states for free. The remaining 25% of the vaccines produced in the country can be bought by the private sector directly from vaccine makers, the PM said. Every state will be told a few weeks in advance how many doses it will get and when.
This comes shortly after Chief Ministers of multiple states, including Odisha, Telangana and Kerala, asked the Union government to take charge of procurement and ensure that the distribution of vaccines is done for free. Many states like Punjab and Delhi had said that vaccine companies were not ready to deal directly with the states.
During his address, blaming the state governments for demanding decentralisation of the vaccination process and then not being able to deal with the ‘obstacles’, the Prime Minister said, “Since Health is a state subject, it is good that states do everything, so in this direction, the Union government formed a liberalised vaccination policy. Demands about states’ power to take decisions like lockdown, containment, infrastructure were heeded to. The Union government has been overseeing the vaccination drive. India was moving ahead with its free vaccination policy and people were also waiting for their turns to get vaccinated. Then states asked that the process be decentralised. They asked, why make an age group for vaccination? Why is the Centre deciding age group? Why are senior citizens getting first?”
Implying that the vaccination process was smooth when it was centralised, and that decentralisation that was demanded by the state governments was the problem, Modi said, “After a lot of back and forth, it was decided that if states want to have more say, keeping in mind their insistence, we bring a change in the policy. We thought, if states are asking for this, they are enthusiastic, why not, let us give them 25% of the work. To complete this, they tried their own methods. In such a major endeavour, they also determined the kind of obstacles that can occur. They came face to face with all the problems that countries are facing. Two weeks into opening up the policy, many states said, the earlier policy was better. More and more states started supporting this. Those who wanted the process to be decentralised, they also agreed with this,” he said.
“Today it has been decided that the 25% work that was given to the states will also be borne by the Union government. This will be implemented in the next two weeks and new guidelines will be issued,” Prime Minister said. “From June 21, the government will provide free vaccines to all citizens above the age of 18. The PM said that 75% vaccines will be procured by the Union government and given to the states, so the states do not have to spend on vaccines. Service fees in private hospitals has been capped, they can charge a maximum of Rs 150 as service charge on one dose of the vaccine.
The Prime Minister, however, did not discuss why the state governments were asked to pay for the vaccines, which was at the root of the discontent that the latter had expressed. Modi declared that it was ‘decentralisation’ that had failed, conflating decentralisation with making state governments pay for the vaccines themselves without any support from the Union government, and prompting the Union government to revert to a centralised procurement process.
The Prime Minister’s address comes days after the Supreme Court pulled up the Union government over its vaccination policy, calling it arbitrary and irrational. The court also questioned the Union government for making vaccination for the 18-44 age group paid at a time when the importance of vaccinating this particular age group has emerged.
India has been reporting a declining trend in cases of COVID-19 after a deadly second wave in April-May. Many states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have started partially lifting restrictions in phases.