The Centre should clarify in Parliament its policy and roadmap for providing COVID vaccines to all by December, the Congress said on Tuesday, as it alleged that the government was driven by headlines and not deadlines and asked why people still have to pay for the jabs at private hospitals.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said all Indians should get free vaccination for COVID-19 and there should be no mandatory registration on the CoWIN app as there are many who do not have digital access.
The party also demanded transparency in the allocation of vaccines to the states and a Parliament session for discussing the policy and approval to fresh budgets required for vaccinating all.
Mr Ramesh said there should be no discrimination in vaccine distribution and the government should follow the principle of cooperative federalism.
"This government is headline-driven and not deadline-driven," Mr Ramesh said at an online press conference, asking the government to come forth with its policy and roadmap towards increasing inoculations and achieving the objective of providing vaccines to all by December 2021.
Training his guns on the prime minister, he alleged, "The PM was sleeping and woke up from ''kumbhakaran ki neend'' (deep slumber) after the Supreme Court intervened and reprimanded the government".
"It is a collective crisis brought about by the failures and ego of only one person and the entire country is suffering because of that," Mr Ramesh alleged.
He said 30 lakh doses of vaccine were administered every day in April 2021, but in May only 16 lakh doses per day were given.
Expressing satisfaction that in June, 30 lakh doses per day were administered, he, however, added that "if we have to vaccinate 100 crore people by December this year, then we need to administer a minimum of 80 lakh doses of the vaccine every day".
"What is the roadmap and policy in achieving this, and how will the vaccines come and from where. The prime minister has not said anything about this.
"We want that the central government, the prime minister and the health minister should take the public in confidence about increasing the vaccinations from the present to 80 lakh doses a day," he said.
Questioning the government's policy, he said it is not clear on what basis and at what price will the private hospitals deliver the vaccine.
"We have demanded that vaccination must be free to all citizens at both government and private hospitals and centres," the Congress leader said alleging that 50 percent of vaccines meant for private hospitals have been monopolised by nine private hospitals and termed it as a "very dangerous situation".
People across the world, be it the US or the UK, are not made to pay for the vaccines, he noted.
Ramesh claimed that the mandatory registration on the CoWIN website would exclude a large number of people who do not have digital access in remote centres.
"We want non-mandatory CoWin registration for vaccinations, which should be walk-in," he said.
"The government must work out a transparent allocation formula in consultation with states for providing vaccines to states, as we have seen that BJP-ruled states have been favoured by the central government in the past in allocation of vaccines and medicines," he alleged.
The Congress leader said the government has earmarked Rs 35,000 crore for vaccines in the country and the same was passed in Parliament.
Citing a news report, he said a total of Rs 50,000 crore would be spent on vaccination as per the latest announcement of free inoculations to all Indians in government hospitals.
"If you need Rs 50,000 crore, call a Parliament session soon and get its nod after discussing the vaccination policy," the Congress leader said, alleging that there is no shortage of money with the government but it has different priorities.
He alleged that the government is "already spending Rs 20,000 crore on central vista project".
Responding to criticism by the BJP that it was the states who first wanted a greater role for them, Ramesh said that no state government would have objected to the union government procuring vaccines.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Monday that the Centre will provide free vaccines to states for inoculation of all above 18 years of age, the Congress had said that the government was only acting on what the party had been insisting on.
The BJP has accused the Congress and other opposition parties of "flip-flops" on the vaccine issue while failing to properly conduct the vaccination exercise in the states ruled by them.
Mr Ramesh said on April 18, former prime minister Manmohan Singh had given suggestions for changing vaccine strategy and he had made a demand for "one nation, once vaccine price", after which on May 12 leaders of various parties raised the demand for free universal vaccination.