Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday compared the Centre’s coronavirus vaccine strategy to its 2016 move to demonetise currency notes of the value of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000.
In a tweet, Gandhi claimed that just like in 2016, people will now stand in queues and suffer loss of money, health and life. In the end, only a few industrialists will benefit, he alleged.
On Monday, the government had announced that everyone above 18 years of age can be vaccinated from May 1. In the third phase of the immunisation programme, vaccine manufacturers will have to supply 50% of their monthly Central Drugs Laboratory released doses to the Centre. They would be free to supply the remaining 50% doses to state governments and in the open market, the Centre said.
Gandhi added that the Centre’s vaccine strategy was a disaster for the country and an opportunity for “Modi’s friends” to make profit. He attached a statement from the Serum Institute of India, which manufactures Covishield, on the pricing of the vaccine.
Earlier in the day, the Serum Institute announced that its Covishield will be sold at Rs 400 a shot to state governments and Rs 600 to private hospitals. Though the company’s statement does not mentions it, SII chief Adar Poonawalla said that the company will sell Covishield doses to the Centre at Rs 400 per dose once the current purchase order ends. Earlier, the Centre used to get it at Rs 150 each, making it the cheapest available option if one gets a shot from a government hospital.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh criticised the Narendra Modi government after the Serum Institute announced the vaccine cost. Assuming that the Centre will get the dose for Rs 150 and states at Rs 400, he said it was not cooperative federalism.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) Secretary General Sitaram Yechury also criticised the Centre, calling the decision “unacceptable”. “Centre must buy vaccines and distribute in a transparent equitable manner free to states,” he tweeted. “PM must spend the lakhs of crores hoarded in PMCares for this. For 70 years India always had a free universal vaccination programme.”
On Tuesday, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to Modi, asking him to reconsider the new coronavirus vaccine distribution policy and provide the required shots free of cost to the state governments. “The state governments are already facing additional financial commitments due to the pandemic,” he said. “The additional burden of purchasing vaccines will place considerable strain on state finances.’’
On November 8, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that were then in circulation would no longer be valid. Citizens were given less than two months’ time to exchange the notes for the new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes.
Several people, many of them elderly, died while standing in long queues to exchange their money and many killed themselves after thinking that their life’s savings were reduced to nothing or failing to exchange their money.
The Modi government claimed that the move aimed to eradicate black money and corruption. But the Congress and several other opposition parties have maintained a sustained criticism of demonetisation.
In November, Gandhi had alleged that the prime minister’s decision was aimed at helping a few of his “crony capitalist friends”. In July, Gandhi had claimed that in the future, Harvard Business School will have case studies on failures of the Narendra Modi-led government, such as its handling of the coronavirus crisis, demonetisation and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax.