Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Monday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting him to give free coronavirus vaccines for beneficiaries of all age groups in the state, ANI reported.

“The financial burden on the state for vaccination of the age cohort of 18-44 years is likely to be more than Rs 1,100 crore considering 1.57 crore eligible beneficiaries,” Soren said in his letter. “With vaccine being available for age cohort of 12-18 years and below, the mentioned financial burden will further increase by around Rs 1,000 crore. It will be extremely difficult to spare as much resources from the resource pool of the state which is already stressed during Covid times.”

The chief minister castigated Centre’s decision to leave vaccine procurement to states, saying it was against the principles of cooperative federalism. “This is probably for the first instance in the history of independent India that the states have been mandated to procure vaccines on their own,” he wrote.

He also referred to the differential pricing of vaccines, which the Supreme Court has also questioned. “...it is pertinent to note that the rates specified by the Centre for procurement of vaccines by the state for the age cohort of 18 to 44 years are significantly higher than the rates at which vaccine is being procured by the Centre for the beneficiaries in the age cohort of 45 years and above,” Soren said. “This dichotomy will not stand the scrutiny of reasonable classification under the fundamental principles of the Constitution of India.”

In his letter, Soren also flagged “abysmal supply of vaccine vis-à-vis the requirement” of Jharkhand. He stressed that timely and full vaccination of all the eligible beneficiaries is the only sustainable measure to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. “Better preparedness and response to a possible third wave in the near future will hinge on the extent of vaccination coverage across the country,” he added.

The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief said his state, like others, has always received vaccines free of cost from the central government for pulse polio and routine immunisation.

Soren asked the prime minister to give states freedom to define priorities for vaccination coverage. “The inherent diversity in our country creates various peculiarities specific to the states concerned,” he wrote. “Every state has its own high risk groups depending on the geographical, cultural and traditional heterogeneity. As such, a common framework defined by the Central government with regard to prioritising of beneficiaries across the country is not desirable.”

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday also wrote to 11 chief ministers, requesting them to unitedly ask the Centre to procure coronavirus vaccines and distribute them to states free of cost. He also said the Modi government’s bid to place the entire onus of procuring vaccines on states defied the very basis of cooperative federalism. Soren was among those tagged in the post.

India’s vaccine strategy

As the fourth phase of inoculation began on May 1, the Central government announced a differential pricing for states, allowing them to buy vaccine doses on their own. Before that, the Centre was procuring and allocating vaccines to states.

In the latest roll out, however, the Centre took responsibility for sourcing only 50% of the doses for what has been categorised as the vulnerable population – those above 45 years, healthcare and frontline workers. This essentially means that vaccinations for all those below 45 years will have to be paid for by the states or by the citizens themselves. The Centre will not pay.

The new “liberalised and accelerated” strategy has been severely criticised. Vaccination rates have fallen steadily nearly every week since early April as many states complained of shortage of doses.