Free vaccine and more free rice

IFP Editorial: The statewide lockdown and restrictions have robbed many sections of the society of their means of livelihood.

Representational Image (PHOTO: IFP)

After a gap of about 47 days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a nationwide televised address has come out with a plan after a series of review meetings with state governments and central government officials regarding the vaccination drive, testing, supply of oxygen etc. PM Modi’s last address to the nation was on April 20, when cases of the coronavirus disease were rising across the country. During that address, he said that the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic had hit India “like a storm” and appealed to states to use lockdowns only as the “last resort”. In the Monday address, the Prime Minister announced the central government will provide free vaccine doses for all citizens above the age of 18 after June 21 adding state governments will not have to spend money on procuring them. He also said free food grains will be available in fixed quantity every month for over 800 million citizens till Diwali in the month of November. Modi’s address comes at a time when India continues to fight the second wave of the pandemic and is staring at a possible third wave of infections. It also came on a day when India recorded 100,636 new Covid-19 cases—the lowest in 61 days. The nationwide infection tally has risen to 28,909,975 and the death toll has gone up to 349,186.

Now, the Centre would take over the task of vaccination from state governments and provide Covid-19 vaccines free of cost to all adults from later this month and that from June 21, all adults over the age of 18 will be vaccinated free. In a turnaround, the Centre will buy 75 per cent of the total vaccine production from manufacturers, will also bear the responsibility of 25 per cent of the state's quota and give it free of cost to the state governments. This arrangement will be implemented in the coming two weeks. In these two weeks, the central and state governments will together make necessary preparations according to the new guidelines. The Prime Minister said private hospitals can continue to procure 25 per cent of vaccines but their charge would be capped at ₹150 per dose.

Previously, the state governments were asked to procure the vaccines directly from the manufacturers by the Central government. As expected, the vaccine manufacturers refused to deal directly with the federating states but with the Central government only. While the big and rich states floated global tenders for the vaccine, the poor states were left with no option but to beg for free vaccines. How could a poor state like ours with so little resources procure vaccines from the manufacturers directly or conjure up enough funds for it while still reeling in financial distress? It was pure humiliation.

Well, the extension of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) till November this year is a relief. But, there are issues here of some MLAs not availing the 5 kg of rice per person in a family citing reasons of Aadhar linkages with ration cards, which is yet to be solved. It is rather strange that some ministers and MLAs are unable to distribute five kgs of rice per person in their respective constituencies while their colleagues could do it. One has to understand the digital divide and lack of awareness in remote corners of the state. The statewide lockdown and restrictions have robbed many sections of the society of their means of livelihood, which is exactly why the Centre has decided on free distribution of rice to ease the worries of the public. On the other hand, there are families who do not possess a ration card for some reason or the other as well as people living in rented houses. This is a public emergency and if need be, rules have to be bent to provide free ration to all.

First Published:June 8, 2021, 3:13 a.m.

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