New Delhi/Calcutta: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hitting out at the Centre's new vaccine policy and terming it "hollow, without substance and a regrettable show" of evasion of responsibility.

The central government on Monday announced that everyone above 18 years of age will be eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19 from May 1, liberalising the vaccination drive to allow states, private hospitals and industrial establishments to procure the doses directly from manufacturers.

"I am informed that the central government has announced the much-delayed universal vaccine policy on 19th April, 2021, which appears to be hollow, without substance and a regrettable show of evasion of responsibility by the central government at a time of crisis," Banerjee said in the letter.

She also reminded the prime minister that she had in a letter dated February 24, 2021 requested his intervention to allow West Bengal purchase vaccines directly with state resources and give free vaccination to people of the state.

"No response was received from your end. Now when the number of cases in the second wave of COVID is spiralling like anything, the Centre has chosen to tactically indulge in empty rhetoric and shy away from its responsibility for making available vaccines to the people of the country," Banerjee wrote.

She pointed out that the announcement made on Monday did not address major issues like ensuring quality, efficacy, stable flow of supply of required number of doses by the manufacturers and also the price at which the vaccines are to be purchased by the states.

"It is apprehended that the announced policy might lead to unscrupulous mechanisms in the market, including pricing of vaccines as it appears to be based on market prices which may put the common people under huge financial burden.

"More importantly, the supply would also become very erratic because the vaccine manufacturers are hardly prepared to scale up their production capacities to the desired levels to meet the nationwide demand," the West Bengal chief minister said.

She added that the required vaccines are not currently available in the market and requested for steps to ensure their availability at the earliest.

"In sum, I would earnestly request you to kindly ensure a fair, transparent and credible vaccination policy addressing all the issues outlined above, which would enable the people of the country to get vaccines urgently at affordable prices as per current scale as applicable," Banerjee said.

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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.