Chief Ministers Remind Centre To Lead Vaccination War Against COVID-19

Cooperative federalism could have saved the day for India but sadly it did not get a chance.

Indicating that all is not well with the federal system, several opposition chief ministers have come out over the past weeks to remind the Centre that it should lead the vaccination war against Covid-19 and cover all citizens.

Chief Ministers like Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, Pinarayi Vijayan of Kerala, Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan, Bhupesh Baghel of Chhattisgarh, Uddhav Thackeray of Maharashtra, Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi, Naveen Patnaik of Odisha and Hemant Soren of Jharkhand, have publicly expressed their displeasure over the Centre’s approach and argued that the cost of vaccination would dent the fiscal health of the states.

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee

At present, the states have to bear the cost of vaccinating people between 18-44 years of age.

After Banerjee, who won a historic third term recently, pressed for universal vaccination, saying its cost worth Rs 30,000 cr was nothing for the Centre, Vijayan, who too set a record by winning a second consecutive term recently, wrote letters to 11 other chief ministers urging them to unite in demanding that the Centre should procure the vaccines and distribute them free of cost.

Soon after she won the polls, Banerjee pointed out that she had written two separate letters to the Centre, over shortage of vaccines and oxygen, but did not get a response.

Noting that she had urged the Centre to provide 3 cr doses, Banerjee had pointed out that around 65 percent of the vaccines produced in the country had been sent abroad and the state was struggling to vaccinate the targeted 50,000 persons per day.

West Bengal, which had eight-phased polls March-April and saw huge rallies during that period when the second wave of Covid peaked, recorded a surge in the number of positive cases and deaths after the results were declared on May 2.

Vijayan, a conservative politician, took to social media platform Twitter to publicize his letter to the chief ministers, a copy of which was also forwarded to the Prime Minister, where he flagged the need for “cooperative federalism” and noted that it was “unfortunate that the Centre had absolved itself of its duty to procure the vaccines and ensure a universal inoculation.”

Vijayan suggested a global tender for the vaccines be floated by the Centre after taking into account the need of all the states.

Kerala CM Pinaryi Vijayan

He further pointed out that if the states had to bear the burden of procuring the vaccines, their fiscal situation would come under stress and would only weaken democracy in the country.

Noting that domestic vaccine suppliers were trying to benefit from the supply crunch, the Kerala chief minister said the foreign manufacturers were reluctant in dealing with the states.

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, who had earlier dubbed his telephonic conversation with PM Modi as “one-sided” and charged that the Centre had failed to curb the pandemic, also urged New Delhi to weather the pandemic storm together with the states.

Pointing out that the Prime Minister spoke to over 70 district magistrates on managing the pandemic but not to the chief ministers, Soren said the Centre should accept the leadership in states as well.

He also questioned the Centre’s different stand on lockdown during the first wave in 2020 and the second wave of the pandemic in 2021 while lamenting the fact that though he had ordered setting up of oxygen plants, the CM had to beg the Centre when it needed the gas.

Both Soren and Bhagel contested the Centre’s claims on vaccine wastage saying the actual numbers were much less.

Gehlot too made similar observations and noted that citizens had a right to free vaccine and denial of the same when the whole country was reeling under the pandemic would be unjust. The Rajasthan CM also urged people to unite against the Centre’s wrong approach towards vaccination.

Ashok Gehlot
Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot

The chief ministers had also expressed concern over the differential pricing of the three vaccines available in India- Covishield of Serum Institute of India, Covaxin of Bharat Biotech and Sputnik V of Russia- between the Centre, the states and the private hospitals.

The problem was that till April, the Centre used to buy the vaccines from SII and Bharat Biotech and distribute it to the states for free.

Later, the policy was revised and the manufacturers were allowed to supply 50 percent of total manufactured vaccines to the states and private entities for the third phase of vaccination under which persons aged between 18-44 years were covered from May 1.

During an earlier interaction with the PM, Bhagel had flagged the need for a strategy to vaccinate all Indians and even suggested that various chief ministers chalk out a plan to go about it themselves.

Baghel’s move to issue vaccine certificates carrying his own photograph instead of the PM had upset the Centre. But the Chhattisgarh CM floated its own CGTEEKA, instead of Centre’s CoWIN, to register those in the 18-44 years bracket.

Soren too had questioned the efficacy of the CoWIN platform and suggested that Jharkhand be allowed to launch a separate user-friendly portal given the large percentage of tribal population which was not comfortable with mobile phones and technology.

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In Delhi, Kejriwal rolled out vaccination but soon shut down the centers saying the Centre was not supplying enough doses. He too urged the Centre to lead vaccine procurement as foreign manufacturers had refused to deal with the state.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who sought the PM’s permission to procure vaccines from various manufacturers, also urged the Centre to allow the states to have their own apps for registration and management of vaccination drives.

Though the pandemic surge has plateaued, experts have warned that the Covid-19 or its mutant strains would be around for a longer period and the only way to protect the citizens was vaccination.

The concerns of the various chief ministers have come at a time when the nation is grappling with vaccine shortages. Taking note of the situation, the Supreme Court too expressed its displeasure over the Centre’s vaccine plan and has urged it to submit a detailed roadmap to protect all the citizens.

Many of the chief ministers argued that if the Centre had devised a plan of action along with them in advance, such confusion and blame game could have been avoided.

Cooperative federalism could have saved the day for India but sadly it did not get a chance.

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