New Delhi, Apr 20: A day after the government tweaked its COVID-19 vaccination policy to widen the coverage, the Congress Tuesday alleged the changes will worsen the inequality between states as well as between poor and rich Indians, and demanded uniform pricing for the jabs at all health facilities.
Questioning the pricing modalities under the new policy, which allows manufacturers to fix the prices of their shots, the Congress said the plan was "regressive, inequitable and anti-competitive".
The party also said the new policy would put additional burden on states which are already cash-strapped.
The Centre announced Monday that all above 18 years of age will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination from May 1, while private hospitals and states will be able to buy doses from manufacturers.
It also said the vaccine manufacturers would be free to supply 50 percent doses to state governments and in the open market for which they will have to make an advance declaration of the price before May 1.
"This is a government that believes in one nation one tax', one nation one election', but this is a government that does not believe in ''ne nation, one price'," Congress leader Jairam Ramesh told an online press conference.
He said the new policy will lead to multiple pricing for COVID-19 shots at central and state government hospitals, and private facilities.
"Why can't we have 'one nation, one price' for vaccines. I think this is a legitimate demand," he said, advocating the Centre, state governments and private hospitals get the shots at the same price.
Ramesh alleged the Central government will get 50 per cent of the vaccines and the rest 50 per cent will be divided among private hospitals and state governments.
"This is very unfair. This is inequitable. We want states to get greater responsibility. But, this is actually not giving the states any responsibility. So 'one nation, one price'. We cannot have 'one nation, multiple prices'," he told reporters.
Chidambaram claimed the Union government has finally acknowledged the problem of vaccine shortage and other deficiencies in the current policy.
"While we welcome the positive changes made to the policy...the modified vaccine policy is, in crucial respects, regressive and inequitable," he said.
"Under the modified vaccine policy, the Union government is running away from taking responsibility, overburdens the states, encourages vaccine manufacturers to profiteer, and will worsen the inequality between states as well between poor and rich Indians," he also said.
Nowhere in the world has any government left its vaccination programme to be determined by the vagaries of market forces, the senior Congress leader noted.
Chidambaram said under the modified vaccine policy, states will bear the responsibility and cost of vaccinating the poorer sections who are below the age of 45 years and are neither healthcare workers nor frontline workers, as defined by the central government.
The former union minister alleged that the Union government appears to have abdicated its responsibility towards the poor by excluding them from the Centre's vaccination programme.
"In a country where the median age is 28 years, to leave those who are below the age of 45 years out of a public-funded programme is, to say the least, callous," he noted, adding that migrant workers who are lifeblood of the economy will be the worst affected by this directive.
Chidambaram also alleged that by liberalising the pricing of vaccine, and by not fixing a price for states at the same rate as it is available to the Union government, the government is paving the way to unhealthy price bidding and profiteering.
"States with limited resources will be at a considerable disadvantage. States that are already weighed down by shrinking GST revenues, lower tax devolution, reduced grants-in-aid and increased borrowing would have to bear this additional burden," he said, questioning where the funds collected under PM-Cares have been spent.
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New Delhi, May 16: The Centre directed Uttar Pradesh and Bihar on Sunday to prevent dumping of dead bodies in the Ganga and its tributaries, and focus on their safe disposal and a dignified cremation after corpses were seen floating in these rivers following a spurt in the number of coronavirus cases.
At a review meeting conducted on May 15-16, the Centre said dumping of dead bodies and partially burnt or decomposed corpses in the Ganga and its tributaries has recently been reported, which is "most undesirable and alarming".
"Namami Gange directs states to prevent dumping of dead bodies in the Ganga and focus on their safe disposal and providing support for ensuring dignified cremation," the Jal Shakti Ministry said.
The state pollution control boards were directed to monitor the water quality more frequently in consultations with the health departments.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was assigned the task of overall monitoring, providing guidance to the state pollution control boards and taking up advanced analysis in the matter.
Support for cremation needs to be given top priority. Effective implementation of the government orders needs to be ensured. No loss of time should take place in implementation, the ministry said.
An advisory was issued by Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Director General, National Mission for Clean Ganga, to the district magistrates, who are also the chairpersons of the district Ganga committees, on May 11.
This was followed up by a letter the next day to the chief secretaries to prevent the dumping of dead bodies in the river and ensure enforcement of the government guidelines on the cremation of COVID-19 victims.
The letter also advised the states to provide financial assistance as well as regulate the rates for the cremation or burial process.
On May 15, the steps taken in this regard in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were reviewed at a meeting chaired Pankaj Kumar, Secretary, Ministry of Jal Shakti, and further action points were decided.
Highlighting the instructions already given, Kumar had called for expeditious action and underscored the need to give equal attention to such incidents in urban and rural areas along the Ganga and other rivers.
"Stopping of dumping of dead bodies as well as their safe disposal and protection of water quality have to be ensured on a war footing. After knowing the progress from the states, the CWC (Central Water Commission), the CPCB and the state pollution control boards would also be giving their feedback and action plans," he had said.
Mishra stated that the situation is being monitored and follow-up action is being taken in several districts such as Unnao, Kanpur rural, Ghazipur and Balia in Uttar Pradesh and Buxar and Saran in Bihar.
However, some cases have also been reported from other districts. He asked the state missions to keep an eye on the situation.
Mishra emphasised the need to strengthen enforcement, maintain vigil and take proactive action to facilitate and support the families for the cremation of the bodies and asked the state missions to specifically report on this.
"If needed, the project directors can assess and also give support to the district Ganga committees for this out of the NMCG funds available with them, while keeping the NMCG informed," he said.
Rajnish Dubey, Additional Chief Secretary, Urban Development, and Anurag Shrivastav, Principal Secretary, Jal Shakti and Project Director, State Ganga Mission, represented Uttar Pradesh in the meeting.
Shrivastava said all the district magistrates have been alerted about the issue and patrolling is being carried out to prevent dumping of dead bodies in the Ganga.
He also informed that 13 crematoria under Namami Gange, in addition to the existing ones, have been made available for the cremation of dead bodies.
It was informed that orders have been issued for financial support for cremations in urban areas. Dubey said similar orders for a financial support of Rs 5,000 have been issued by the Panchayati Raj department for rural areas and the SDRF and other forces have also been asked to carry out patrolling.
Anand Kishore, Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Project Director, State Ganga Mission, Government of Bihar, informed that it has been decided that the cremation or burial expenses of those dying due to COVID-19 will be borne by the state government.
He added that even if the deceased did not have a COVID-positive report but showed symptoms of the disease, the family will be offered this support.
He also said patrolling is being done to prevent further dumping of dead bodies in the river, especially in districts like Buxar and Saran (Chhapra).
CWC Chairman S K Halder informed that they are monitoring the flow and the water quality of the river through their stations and will further increase the frequency.
CPCB Member Secretary Prashant Gargava said the board has forewarned all water monitoring stations along the Ganga and her tributaries. The periodicity of testing the water quality has also been increased.
Debashree Mukherjee, Additional Secretary with the Jal Shakti Ministry, stated that besides an urgent assessment of the risks to the riverside communities by the pollution control boards, there is a need to raise awareness on the dos and don'ts as regards the use of river water and to prevent such incidents of dumping of bodies in the river.