Chandigarh, Jun 6 (PTI) Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu on Sunday dubbed Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri's charge of profiteering by the Punjab government by selling COVID-19 vaccines to private hospitals as 'baseless'.
The Ludhiana MP said there is no question of profiteering by the state government from the supply of vaccines when the whole amount paid by a few private hospitals has been deposited in the State Vaccination Fund for the purchase of vaccines to inoculate the people of the state against the viral disease for free.
He slammed the BJP-led government at the Centre for allegedly not ensuring adequate supplies of vaccine doses to the states.
Puri on Saturday sought a probe into the alleged profiteering by the Congress government in Punjab by selling Covid vaccines to private hospitals.
The state government issued an order on Friday for taking back the vaccines given to the private hospitals with immediate effect after the opposition targeted it for allegedly diverting Covid vaccines to these healthcare facilities.
Bittu said the state government is already committed to ensuring free vaccination to all the citizens of Punjab.
'The real issue for which the central government is squarely responsible is the woefully inadequate supply of vaccines, which the state is not getting even after placing an order with the Serum Institute of India in Pune. Why did the BJP fail to ensure the supply of adequate vaccines to the country?' he asked.
The Congress leader said all vaccine supplies, whether from domestic or foreign suppliers, are totally being controlled by the Union government.
'It is a matter of great shame that the Union government failed to negotiate supplies of vaccines with both domestic and foreign manufacturers in 2020. The manufacturing capacity of the SII and Covaxin should also have been expanded in a big way. All this, despite the fact that India is a pharma hub of the entire world,' he said in a statement issued here.
Bittu said only 4.29 lakh doses of Covishield were received by Punjab so far, despite the fact that the state placed an order for 30 lakh doses with the SII as soon as the Centre announced its new vaccine policy.
Apart from paying Rs 18.27 crore for 5.43 lakh vaccine doses, the Punjab government has paid Rs 22.88 crore as advance for the procurement of 6.88 lakh vaccine doses, which are yet to be received, he said.
According to the Union health ministry's data, as on June 1, Punjab's vaccine coverage was 14.13 per cent, which was lower than that of the neighbouring states and Union Territory because the state has been getting 'very less' vaccine supplies, which is highly 'discriminatory', Bittu said, adding that stepmotherly treatment is being meted out to the border state.
'We had demanded that vaccines be provided for free to every citizen of the country. Can Hardeep Singh Puri explain why the BJP came out with the policy of paid vaccination by the states and private hospitals with no cap on the margin? 'Earlier, the Centre had capped the charges to be taken by the private hospitals at a maximum of Rs 100 but now, it has left it open to the private hospitals to charge as much as they want,' the Congress MP said.
'This loot by the private hospitals, if any, is the result of the faulty policies of the central government. The Punjab government has nothing to do with this,' he added.
Questioning the Union minister, Bittu asked, 'If Hardeep Puri is speaking of Punjab and its issues as a BJP worker, where was he when Punjab was faced with an acute shortage of oxygen and there was a risk of patients dying in Amritsar due to it? Did he arrange even one tanker or cylinder of oxygen for the citizens of Punjab during the time of acute shortage of oxygen?' PTI CHS VSD RC