Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the in-principle nod to revamp the existing Covid vaccination policy on June 1 itself and the groundwork, too, began that day, government sources have said. The observation came amid assertion by opposition leaders that the government had today corrected its course following the sharp comments from the Supreme Court last week against the new, liberalised inoculation drive.
“The plan for centralised free vaccination was presented to the Prime Minister on June 1 on completion of one month of the decentralised model. The Prime Minister had given an in-principle approval in the meeting and the ground work for it began right on June 1 and it was announced today,” the sources said.
In a national address today, PM Modi announced that his government would take back control of the drive from the states and provide vaccines free of charge to all above 18 from June 21.
He revised the rules of the drive’s third phase which came into force a month ago.
Better late than never. The central government’s decision to take responsibility for vaccine procurement is welcome.
Thanks to the Supreme Court which forced the central govt to see reason.
Karnataka government needs to focus on equitable distribution of the vaccines.
— DK Shivakumar (@DKShivakumar) June 7, 2021
The change in the Centre’s Covid vaccination policy, announced today by PM Modi, came a week after the government faced some tough questions from the Supreme Court. A three-member bench had on May 31 flagged “various flaws” in the inoculation drive, criticising aspects such as differential pricing, shortage of doses, and a lack of access in rural India.
On May 31, the Supreme Court bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, LN Rao, and S Ravindra Bhat had observed, “Your rationale was high mortality in the 45+ group (but), in the second wave, this group is not seriously affected…it is 18-44. If the purpose is to procure vaccines, why should the Centre procure only for those aged over 45?”
It was hearing a suo motu case on Covid-19 management in the country. The court asked why states were required to pay more for the vaccines under the Centre’s new “liberalised” policy which allowed states to buy up to 50 per cent of their needs directly from manufacturers, although at prices higher than what the Centre had to pay.
The court, in its detailed order, asked the Centre to revisit the new policy, calling it prima facie “arbitrary” and “irrational”. It sought a roadmap of the availability of vaccines till December 31, along with the details of the Rs 35,000 crore set aside in the Union budget to buy doses. The bench wanted a comparison of vaccines’ prices in India and abroad. It also asked for documents and file notings related to the Centre’s new policy.
When the Centre asked the Supreme Court to keep off policy-making, it refused to be a “silent spectator” when executive policies infringed constitutional rights.
“Let me tell you from my experience as a Judge — the ability to say that you’re wrong is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength,” Justice Chandrachud had said.
The next hearing of the Supreme Court on the matter is on June 30.