A day after the government announced its liberalised COVID-19 vaccine policy to cover all adults from May 1, the Congress Tuesday termed it "discriminatory" and demanded uniform pricing for the jabs across the country.
Questioning the pricing modalities under the new policy, which allows manufacturers to fix the prices of their shots, the Congress said the plan was "regressive, inequitable and anti-competitive".
Addressing a joint virtual press conference, Congress leaders P Chidambaram, Jairam Ramesh and Ajay Maken said the new policy would put an additional burden on states which are already cash-strapped.
They alleged the changes in the policy will worsen the inequality between states as well as between poor and rich Indians.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged the new vaccine policy is discriminatory and that there is no vaccine guarantee for the weaker sections of the society.
"No free vaccines for 18 to 45-year-olds. Middlemen brought in without price controls. No vaccine guarantee for weaker sections. Government of India's Vaccine Discrimination -- Not Distribution -- Strategy," he said in a tweet.
The Centre announced on Monday that everyone above 18 years of age will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination from May 1, while private hospitals and states will be able to buy doses from manufacturers.
It also said vaccine manufacturers would be free to supply 50 per cent doses to state governments and in the open market for which they will have to make an advance declaration of the price before May 1.
"This is a government that believes in 'one nation one tax', 'one nation one election', but this is a government that does not believe in 'one nation, one price'," Ramesh told reporters.
He said the new policy will lead to multiple pricing for COVID-19 shots at central and state government hospitals, and private facilities.
"Why can't we have 'one nation, one price' for vaccines. I think this is a legitimate demand," he said, advocating the Centre, state governments and private hospitals get the shots at the same price.
Ramesh alleged the Centre will get 50 per cent of the vaccines and the rest 50 per cent will be divided among private hospitals and state governments.
"This is very unfair. This is inequitable. We want states to get greater responsibility... We cannot have 'one nation, multiple prices'," he said.
Chidambaram claimed the Union government has finally acknowledged the problem of vaccine shortage and other deficiencies in the current policy.
"While we welcome the positive changes made to the policy... the modified vaccine policy is, in crucial respects, regressive and inequitable," he said.
"Under the modified vaccine policy, the Union government is running away from taking responsibility, overburdens the states, encourages vaccine manufacturers to profiteer and will worsen the inequality between states as well between poor and rich Indians," he said.
Nowhere in the world has any government left its vaccination programme to be determined by the vagaries of market forces, the senior Congress leader claimed.
He said under the modified vaccine policy, states will bear the responsibility and cost of vaccinating the poorer sections who are below the age of 45 years and are neither healthcare workers nor frontline workers, as defined by the Centre.
The Centre appears to have abdicated its responsibility towards the poor by excluding them from its vaccination programme, the former union minister alleged.
"In a country where the median age is 28 years, to leave those who are below the age of 45 years out of a public-funded programme is, to say the least, callous," he said, adding migrant workers who are the "lifeblood" of the economy will be the "worst affected by this directive".
Chidambaram also alleged that by liberalising the pricing of vaccine and by not fixing a price for states, the government is paving the way for unhealthy price bidding and profiteering.
"States with limited resources will be at a considerable disadvantage. States that are already weighed down by shrinking GST revenues, lower tax devolution, reduced grants-in-aid and increased borrowing would have to bear this additional burden," he said, questioning where the funds collected under PM-CARES have gone.
Congress' Randeep Surjewala alleged the government has abandoned its responsibility of free vaccination of India's population in the age group of 18 to 45 years, who will have to get vaccinated at open market price to be decided by the manufacturer.
"What about drug price Control order? The new definition of 'Aatamnirbhar Bharat'," he tweeted. Surjewala alleged that it is the poor and disadvantaged who will suffer as companies make money and a complicit government has shut its eyes.
Ramesh also claimed that the states are in no position to bear the financial burden and accused the Centre of not fulfilling its responsibility to ensure the livelihoods of people.
The Centre must transfer Rs 6,000 into the bank accounts of the poor and underprivileged, he demanded.
Maken said the issue of migrant workers has once again turned serious should not be allowed to aggravate.
There is no clarity on the import of foreign-made approved vaccines. Asking if any manufacturer has agreed to export its vaccine and whether adequate quantities have been promised, Chidambaram posed.