The PM-CARES fund, which has been set up to provide relief during the coronavirus pandemic, has contributed over Rs 2,200 crore for the first phase of vaccination drive, which is looking to inoculate frontline healthcare workers, the Expenditure Secretary said on Tuesday. Set up in March 2020, the exact collections made by the fund through voluntary contribution by individuals and corporates, are not known but the corpus managed by the PMO has been providing relief to pandemic-hit sectors.
With the Budget for the current fiscal, which was presented before the onset of the pandemic, making no separate allocation for vaccination, more than 82 per cent of the cost of the same during January to March is being borne by the PM CARES Fund. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget for the next fiscal beginning April 2021 has set aside Rs 35,000 crore towards COVID vaccination.
In an interview with PTI, Expenditure Secretary TV Somanathan said the cost of vaccination of frontline and healthcare workers in the current fiscal is being borne fully by the central government and the money is coming from PM CARES fund and Health Ministry. "For January-March the (vaccination) cost is expected to be about Rs 2,700 crore approximately. Part of it is coming from the Health Ministry and some part of it is funded from the PM CARES fund. This is for the first round of 3 crore frontline and health workers," he said.
The entire cost of this round will be borne by the Central Government, he said. "We had provided extra funds to the Health Ministry for incidental costs to vaccination. We made an additional allocation of Rs 480 crore just for the 3 crore batch of vaccination," he said.
The remaining about Rs 2,220 crore will come from PM-CARES fund. "Yes, that is my information," he said when asked if the remainder of the Rs 2,700 crore cost of the vaccination drive, after accounting for Rs 480 crore from the health ministry, will come from the PM CARES Fund.
Opposition and rights activists have criticised the secrecy behind the PM-CARES Fund. This is because information on donations made and expenditure has not been shared citing the fund not being a "public authority" under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. The Prime Minister Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM-CARES) was set up in March last year where people can contribute to help the government fight against coronavirus and similar "distressing situations".
The trust is headed by the Prime Minister. The other ex-officio members of the trust are the defence minister, the home minister and the finance minister. India in January approved two vaccines, Oxford's Covishield manufactured by SII in the country and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin, for restricted emergency use. The country launched its COVID-19 vaccination drive from January 16 in what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called the world's largest inoculation programme with priority to be given to nearly three crore healthcare and frontline workers.
According to the COVID-19 Vaccine Operational Guidelines, the shots will be offered first to an estimated one crore healthcare workers, and around two crore frontline workers, and then to persons above 50 years of age, followed by persons younger than 50 years of age with associated comorbidities based on evolving pandemic situation. The Budget on Monday proposed a budget outlay of over Rs 2.23 lakh crore for health and well being in 2021-2022, an increase of 137 per cent from the previous year.
Sitharaman in her Budget speech had said that India has two vaccines available, and has begun medically safeguarding not only her own citizens against COVID-19, but also those of 100 or more countries. "It is added comfort to know that two or more vaccines are also expected soon," she said.
Somanathan said the recommendations of the Finance Commission in the area of health relating to local body grants have been accepted in full. "Whatever the Commission has recommended in the area of local body grants for health, water and sanitation are being accepted in full and will be implemented. We have also made the necessary budget provisions for those grants," he added.