Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has announced that the state government will vaccinate everyone in Bengal against COVID-19 free of cost. In a letter to policemen and health workers that is currently being circulated across the state, she has said, "I am very happy to announce that our government is making arrangements to facilitate the administration of #Covid19 vaccine to all the people of state without any cost".
Text messages from the chief minister with the same message have also been received by doctors and policemen on their phones as well, stating they will be vaccinated for free.
Bengal has a population of 10 crore and the cost to the exchequer for free vaccination may be as much as Rs 5000 crore, according to some estimates.
The state has already listed around 6 lakh frontline health workers for vaccination when it begins from January 16.
The BJP, however, has questioned Mamata Banerjee's claims.
BJP's IT cell chief Amit Malviya has tweeted a copy of the letter, accusing the chief minister of "rushing to take credit" when the "Centre has announced free priority vaccination for 3 crore frontline workers across the country".
"It doesn't stop at the CM making bogus claim that her government is providing free Covid vaccine to all frontline workers. TMC cadres are rushing to put posters which read, "Every person of our state to be given Covid vaccine for free, announces Didi."
"Shamelessness has no limit." Mr Malviya concludes.
Union minister Babul Supriyo tweeted: "The Central government has already announced free vaccines for all and now Didi has started politics over it. Instead of lying, she should ensure there is no vaccine theft like the rice-theft that has happened.
However, according to the Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, vaccinations will be provided free to 1 crore healthcare and 2 crore frontline workers in the first phase. How another 27 crore priority beneficiaries – those above the age of 50 years and others with co-morbidities -- are to be vaccinated by July is yet to be finalized.
BJP leader Dilip Ghosh said, "We have seen this before. Central schemes for housing or toilets are given another name by the state and passed off as its own. They will now try to do the same with the vaccine."
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has reportedly said, "The Chief Minister is doing this for the election. It is an electoral bribe. We demand free vaccination for all in the country".
Trinamool leader and minister Subrata Mukherjee has reportedly said, "The point is to get the vaccine to the people. Who does it is not the main thing. If the state government does it, it can take credit for that, why not."
There has been no comment from the state government on the letter or the SMS that many people have received.
There has been no comment from the state government on the letter, nor on the SMS that many people have received. A noticeable discrepancy is the date on the letter in circulation. They only have the year printed on the letter and no date. Also some letters have 2021 printed on them. Others have 2020.
Queries with the party and the government have so far not elicited any clarification.