CMs, BJP welcome PM's free COVID vaccine initiative; Opp claims policy reversed due to fear of SC action

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New Delhi, Jun 7 (PTI) Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement on Monday that his government would provide COVID-19 vaccines free of charge to all above the age of 18 years was welcomed by the chief ministers of various states and the BJP, even as opposition parties claimed that the Centre withdrew the 'faulty' vaccine policy to save its face before the Supreme Court.

'Whenever there is any crisis in the country, our Prime Minister Modi ji has always led the country from the front,' BJP president J P Nadda said, joining other senior leaders of the ruling party in hailing the move which they said has infused new strength in the fight against the pandemic.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, however, claimed the Centre had taken the step after being reprimanded by the Supreme Court which had questioned its “botched” vaccine policy, and demanded that the prime minister apologise.

“Better late than never, but never late is better Modi ji,” the party said on its Twitter handle and noted that the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi have been pressing the Centre for free universal vaccination in the country.

The party opposed keeping 25 per cent vaccines for the private sector for which they will charge people.

'One simple question - If vaccines are free for all, why should private hospitals charge for them,' Gandhi tweeted using the hashtag '#FreeVaccineForAll'.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh (Congress), Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik (BJD), Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin (DMK) and Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan (CPI-M) were among the state leaders who appreciated that the Centre had approved their request for free vaccine supply.

“Every life is precious. No one is safe until everyone is vaccinated. As a nation, we stand united in this fight against COVID-19 pandemic. Thank PM Shri Narendra Modi ji for making vaccination a national mission,” Patnaik said.

Amarinder Singh said the move will help Punjab and other states facing problems in sourcing vaccines to ensure early vaccination of their people.

It'll also bring much-needed pricing parity - a necessity in pandemic times, he said.

“The Hon. Prime Minister's declaration that the COVID-19 vaccine will be supplied free of cost to the States from 21 June, is the most appropriate response at this hour. I am happy that our request has been positively responded to by the Prime Minister,” Vijayan, who is a CPI(M) politburo member, said The Left party, however, alleged that the prime minister had tried to “defend his dubious discriminatory vaccine policy by passing the buck on to state governments”.

“Now Modi abandons his policy, fearing a Supreme Court directive for a free and universal vaccination programme by the Centre.

“The Modi government must now sincerely implement the free and universal vaccination campaign and not look for excuses. There is a lot to be done. Many lives to be saved,” CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted.

Stalin welcomed the decision of the Centre to procure '75 percent of the vaccines produced in the country' and provide them free to the states.

“I also appreciate the Prime Minister for reversing his government’s previous position,” he said.

AAP leader and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said the Modi government had taken the decision after the Supreme Court's intervention and alleged that the states could not buy vaccine doses directly due to the Centre’s policies.

“We express our gratitude to the Hon'ble Supreme Court that after its intervention, free vaccines will be available to all age groups across the country.

'If the central government wanted, it could have done this long ago, but due to the policies of the Centre, neither the states were able to buy the vaccines nor the central government was giving it,' Sisodia tweeted.

On June 2, the Supreme Court questioned the Centre's policy of paid vaccination for the 18-44 age group, saying it is 'prima facie, arbitrary and irrational'.

The top court had pointed out the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and asked the Centre to review its vaccination policy.

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said private hospitals will continue to have a 25 percent quota so that rich have a 'VIP queue' while the poor will have to wait for vaccine availability.

“Reversal of vax policy seems to be the result of SC's order. Although blame of terrible vaccine policy has been put on states, it's Modi who failed to ensure vax supply (sic),” Owaisi tweeted However, BJP leaders were all praise after the prime minister's announcement.

'States were given the freedom to buy vaccines for those in the age group of 18-44 years. But many states were finding it difficult to do so. We are grateful that the prime minister has resolved this issue,' Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said.

Union Minister Smriti Irani said that this shows the sensitivity and commitment of this government. PTI TEAM JTR SKC CHS VSD UZM RT RT

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