Modi govt’s COVID vaccination policy has put lives of millions of Indians at great risk
The only light on the dark horizon is the intervention of the judiciary, which has risen to the occasion to bring the government round to its senses
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is at his eloquent best when he talks about the ‘youth power’ of India and how the future is safe and secure in their hands. "The more emphasis we put on India's youth power and the more opportunities we will give them, I understand that they will become a strong foundation for the bright future of our country," Modi said while replying to the motion of thanks on the President's address in the budget session of Parliament earlier this year.
But sadly, when the country’s youth is faced with a life and death issue over the COVID pandemic, his government has left them in the lurch, as if they have no place in its scheme of things.
According to the new vaccination policy announced by the Modi government, the Centre’s free vaccine is available only to the 60-plus and at best to the 45-plus categories of people, and that too among the lucky ones who have managed to get the jab in the early phase of the government’s much-touted vaccination drive.
The vast majority of 18-plus age group has been left to the mercy of the private sector, which is expected to take control of the vaccine market on the basis of ‘demand-supply’ situation, an euphemism for profiteering.
The diabolism in the Modi govt’s policy was already visible when the launch of the prematurely celebrated ‘world’s biggest vaccination drive’ covering 900 million people rolled out as a non-event. Not even one vial of the vaccine was administered to the target group.
Not just that, nobody seemed to know who would supply the vaccine required for such massive operation, or the logistics of how the vaccine will be administered and above all at what price.
The Modi government’s deal with the vaccine manufacturers is simple: they have to provide half of the production to the Centre at a concessional price, and then recoup the loss and compromised profits from sales to state governments and the private sector by pricing the vaccine at will.
As if it is of no concern to the Modi government as to how the vaccination of the majority would be undertaken.
The vaccine manufacturers deserve appreciation for their effort to come up with two vaccines to fight the dreaded virus in good time. But at the same time, one cannot overlook the fact that the Central government had sanctioned a credit of Rs 3,000 crore for Serum Institute of India, manufacturer of Covishield vaccine, and Rs 1,500 crore to Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin.
The Centre has also provided funds to these companies in terms of R&D support and expansion of manufacturing facility.
Free universal vaccination against COVID is the norm all over the world and some of the developed nations have already covered 50 per cent of their national populations, in the process achieving great success in reining in the deadly virus.
But the Modi government seems to consider universal vaccination a Utopian idea and has not managed to administer the vaccine even to 10 per cent of the population.
No wonder that while the disease is getting controlled in most parts of the world, India is being ravaged by the second wave of infection, despite the fact that the government has resolved vaccination as the only effective way to control the disease.
The only light on the dark horizon is the intervention of the judiciary, which has risen to the occasion to bring the government round to its senses.
The Supreme Court has told the Modi government in no uncertain terms that since the companies have been provided public funds, the vaccine is public property and that the government cannot allow the companies to price it arbitrarily. The court intervention has, in fact, thrown a spanner into the Modi government’s deal with the vaccine manufacturers.
The court has asked the government in view of the public investment to revisit its vaccine pricing policy, which forces state governments to procure from open market the vaccines for the age group of 18-45 years, competing with private entities.
This raises the most crucial issue as to whether the Centre’s obsession is only the state governments (on how to make things more difficult for them) and the private sector (on how to help them make more money) and not the people, who should have otherwise received the biggest priority.
The Supreme Court also observed that the manner in which Centre's current vaccine policy has been framed would prima facie result in a detriment to the right to public health which is an integral element of Article 21 of the Constitution.
Views are personal