West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has announced free coronavirus vaccines for all the citizens of the state, the Hindustan Times reported on Sunday. India’s vaccination drive is scheduled to begin on January 16.

“I am very happy to announce that our government is making arrangements to facilitate the administration of Covid-19 vaccine to all the people of [the] state without any cost,” Banerjee wrote in an open letter addressed to all the health workers of the state.

In the letter, she said that the state would provide vaccines to all the health workers in the first phase of the inoculation drive. Banerjee also expressed her gratitude to all the frontline workers for their service to the people of the state, PTI reported.

Like Banerjee, the Centre too has said priority will be given to frontline healthcare workers, which is estimated to be around three crore people in the country. West Bengal has a population of 10 crore people and has about 6 lakh health workers.

Opposition attacks TMC

The Opposition criticised the Bengal government over the announcement. Dilip Ghosh, president of the West Bengal Bharatiya Janata Party unit, said that the Centre has already promised vaccination for frontline workers and alleged that the Trinamool Congress government was trying to take credit for it, reported India Today.

“The state government would distribute the vaccines supplied by the Centre and say it is providing free inoculation, just like renaming other central schemes,” Ghosh said. “She is trying to turn it into a poll sop.” West Bengal is going to polls, which is likely to be held in April-May.

Amit Malviya, head of BJP’s IT cell, also accused Banerjee of taking credit for Centre’s promise. “Pishi [Mamata Banerjee] was a disaster when it came to managing Covid-19,” he tweeted. “From doctors to policemen, everyone protested against chief minister’s apathy. But now that the Centre has announced free priority vaccination for 3 crore frontline workers across the country, Pishi is rushing to take credit.”

Malviya said that the chief minister does not stop just at making a “bogus claim”. “...TMC cadres are rushing to put posters, which read, ‘Every person of our state to be given Covid-19 vaccine for free, announces Didi’,” he said in another tweet. “Shamelessness has no limit.”

State Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury also alleged that the free vaccination promise was another attempt by the TMC to fool the masses. “The TMC is well aware its days are numbered, so these are desperate attempts,” he said.

The Trinamool Congress dismissed the allegations. “The TMC government has done a splendid job in Covid-19 management,” state minister Subrata Mukherjee said. “If we have announced about providing free vaccines, what is the harm in it?”

West Bengal has so far recorded 5,60,709 coronavirus cases, according to the Union Health Ministry. There are 7,881 cases and the toll stood at 9,941. As many as 5,42,887 people have recovered in the state.