The Congress on Tuesday said the Centre’s decision to liberalise vaccine sales and deregulate prices will make vaccines in India more expensive, and will end up excluding economically weaker sections of the population from voluntarily coming forward to take the shot.

“We have no problem in vaccine manufacturers making profits, but the Centre cannot abdicate its responsibility,” said former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, according to NDTV.“You want one nation, one market...Why can’t we have one nation, one price?”

Until now, the Union government has been supplying vaccines to states free of cost. But on Monday, the Centre announced that from May 1, states can directly buy shots from vaccine manufacturers.

The Centre said it will provide vaccines free of cost for only the first 30 crore vulnerable persons. After that, vaccines will not be subsidised as they are being at present.

The Union government will be entitled to a 50% share of the vaccines being produced, while state governments will have to buy the remaining 50% directly from the vaccine manufacturers. This would also mean that the price of vaccines will vary in every state.

For this sale to state governments, “private vaccination providers shall transparently declare their self-set vaccination price”, the Centre said, without specifying if there will be a ceiling on this rate determined by the manufacturer.

Congress leader Randeep Surjewala said that by doing so, the Narendra Modi government has “abdicated its responsibility of price fixation”.

“Why?” Surjewala wrote on Twitter. “Ultimately, poor and disadvantaged suffer as companies make money and a complicit government shuts its eyes.”

He described this as “vaccine profiteering”. “Modi government retains 50% quota. Balance 50% has to be bought directly by states and the private sector from the manufacturers,” he said. “Consequence – high vaccine price for common man, more profit for companies”.

The Congress leader wondered how the Centre expected the states to shoulder the financial burden of vaccinating residents. “Where is the money with states burdened with GST dues and huge loans?” he said.

Surjewala said that instead of aiming to vaccinate large sections of population quickly, the Modi government has opted for policies that would only result in “chaos and slowing down” of the vaccination drive.

“Modi Govt has abandoned its responsibility of free vaccination of India’s youth of 18-45 years,” he added. “The youth now has to vaccinate at open market price to be decided by the manufacturer. What about Drug Price Control order? [Is this] the new definition of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’?”

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi made similar observations as he questioned why 18 to 45-year-olds will not get free vaccines.

“Middlemen brought in without price controls,” he said. “No vaccine guarantee for weaker sections.” He added that the government’s strategy was one of vaccine discrimination, and not distribution.