West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for taking four months to listen to states and revise India’s Covid-19 vaccination policy.

On Monday evening, Modi announced that the state governments will no longer have to buy Covid-19 vaccines and the Centre will now provide doses for the 18 to 44 age group. However, private hospitals will continue to buy 25% of the total vaccine stock. This means some beneficiaries will have to pay for their vaccines if they choose to get inoculated at non-government medical facilities.

In a series of tweets, Banerjee said that she had written to the prime minister multiple times, including on February 21, demanding that the Centre provide vaccines to everyone for free. “The well-being of the people of India should’ve been prioritized since the very start of this pandemic,” the chief minister tweeted. “Unfortunately, this delayed decision by PM has already cost many lives. Hoping for a better managed vaccination drive this time that focuses on people & not propaganda!”

Following Modi’s Monday announcement, other Opposition parties had also said that the Centre’s decision to procure vaccine for states should have been implemented before.

Leaders from different political parties claimed that that the change in the vaccination policy was due to their insistence as well as the Supreme Court’s recent criticism of the vaccination policy. “The prime minister inflicted a huge cost on the people of India before accepting the Opposition’s demand for centralised procurement and free vaccination for 18-44 year olds,” Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted. “Humility and reaching out will not hurt him.”

Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said that the Centre’s decision was an attempt to “defend his [Modi] dubious discriminatory vaccine policy by passing the buck on to State governments”.

Under India’s third phase of the immunisation programme, the Centre had announced that vaccine manufacturers will supply 50% of their monthly Central Drugs Laboratory-released doses to the Union government and the remaining 50% doses to state governments and in the open market. This system was implemented from May 1, when the central government opened vaccinations for all adults.

But the Centre had faced criticism on its vaccination policy from the Supreme Court and Opposition leaders for the differential pricing of shots and shortages of vaccines.

Several chief ministers, including Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan and Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik, had urged their counterparts to jointly demand the Centre to procure vaccines for them. Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren had requested the prime minister for free vaccines for all and castigated the Centre’s decision to leave vaccine procurement to states, saying it was against the principles of cooperative federalism.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy too had urged chief ministers of all states to come together as “a single voice” and appeal to the Centre to assume responsibility for the Covid-19 vaccination drive.

Meanwhile, India on Tuesday morning registered 86,498 new coronavirus cases, pushing the infection tally in the country to 2,89,96,473 since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. This is the lowest daily tally of infections in more than two months. With 2,123 deaths, the toll climbed to 3,51,309.

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