Prime Minister in his address to the nation today (June 7) made three big announcements:
75% of vaccines from domestic producers will be procured by The Centre and provided to states for free;
Vaccination will be provided free of cost to all adults above 18 years of age. Those who wish to get vaccinated in private hospitals, 25% quota will continue and at a fixed price; and
Free ration for 80 crore beneficiaries to be continued till November to help poor households tide over the economic hardship caused by the second wave of the pandemic.
The central government had in mid April, at the request of states, allowed state governments to procure and vaccinate the 18-45 age group from May 1. State governments could buy up to 25% of production of Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech. They were also allowed to import vaccinations from abroad.
The vaccination process, which was running smoothly till April under central government control, went haywire from May 1 as states could not procure enough supplies from domestic and international markets. Only around 7 crore people were vaccinated in May as against 16 crore till the end of April.
States like Punjab and Delhi said that they failed to import vaccines as foreign players do not want to deal with local governments. After realising that the job was easier said than done, the same states which were propagating decentralisation started requesting the central government to procure vaccines and distribute them.
Even Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, in his press conference, stated that it is Prime Minister Modi’s responsibility to inoculate the entire country. Some states like Jharkhand have written to the Centre that they cannot afford funds for the vaccination and that the Centre should provide the same for free to them.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Andhra counterpart Jagan Reddy also made similar demands for centralised purchase and decentralised administration. The decentralised process resulted in differential pricing and this was criticised by experts.
It was said that this policy resulted in a sellers market with 30-odd states chasing the same vaccine makers in a duopolistic market. In some states the vaccination for 18+ either has not started or was moving at a snail’s pace.
As the Opposition-ruled states realised that public anger was brewing against them, they threw in the gauntlet, made a neat U-turn and demanded That the Centre should procure and give it to them for free, funds are already provided in the Union Budget, etc.
The matter is also being heard in courts where the government has placed on record that all adult Indians will be vaccinated by December 2021. The court had termed the policy as ‘arbitrary and irrational’ and asked for a projection of numbers (demand-supply), including imports, and show how the government intends to fulfil its target of vaccination of all by year end.
The decision shows that the Modi dispensation is open to feedback. It didn’t hesitate in rethinking its earlier decision since it wasn’t working.
The health and safety of the citizens are of paramount importance to Prime Minister Modi.
The re-centralisation announcement will benefit all stakeholders: it removes ambiguity and uncertainty, it will result in uniform pricing and hence save taxpayers’ money, it will save time and resources of bureaucracy and lead to better distribution of efforts — central government towards procurement and state governments towards administration of vaccines.
The whole nation heaves a sigh of relief as they have more faith in the prime minister rather than their chief ministers to get them vaccinated and protect them from deadly coronavirus.
This is also likely to provide a boost to ratings of Modi which have lately been impacted.
This is a true example of cooperative federalism. Both the Centre and state governments should now work hand in hand and work towards fulfilling the target by 2021 rather than indulging in politics. The Opposition should welcome the decision rather than criticising just for the sake of it.
The free ration decision will also help poor whose incomes have been impacted due the second wave to tide over this crisis. Last year during the first phase as well this scheme was in place for 8 months.
The decisions taken today will go a long way in saving lives and livelihoods and help India recover from the aftermath of the pandemic.