As Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his government would revert to the system of centralised procurement of vaccines against Covid-19 and that it would provide them free of cost to states, the Opposition said the “course correction” was due to a “realisation” that its “flawed policy” had led to a collapse of the inoculation drive.

The Opposition Chief Ministers also made it known that the change in policy was because of their pressure and the Supreme Court’s criticism of the government’s vaccine policy.

Welcoming the decision to “reverse” the government’s “previous position”, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin demanded that states now be “given complete control of registration, validation and administration procedures of the vaccination”, pointing out that the PM himself had “stressed multiple times” that health is a state subject.

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee said she had written to the Prime Minister and the Centre multiple times demanding free vaccination. “The well-being of the people of India should’ve been prioritised since the very start of this pandemic. Unfortunately, this delayed decision by the Prime Minister has already cost many lives,” she tweeted.

Though Banerjee has been seeking free universal vaccination, in a letter to the PM in February, she demanded that the state be allowed to purchase vaccination doses directly with state funds so that it can launch a drive to provide free vaccines to all its people.

Calling the decision to supply vaccines free of cost to states the “most appropriate response at this hour”, Kerala CM Pinarayi Viyayan pointed out that he was happy that “our request has been positively responded to by the Prime Minister.” Punjab CM Amarinder Singh too spoke in a similar vein.

Rajasthan CM Gehlot denied that states had demanded that they be allowed to buy vaccines. “As per my information, no state has made such a demand. It seems the Prime Minister’s advisors have given him wrong information…”

Though Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray did not comment on the PM’s announcement, the state was among the first to demand that it be allowed to procure vaccines independently. There was a Cabinet resolution in this regard in April, and in the first week of May, Thackeray wrote to the PM reiterating this demand.

Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel said the biggest challenge now is to ensure continuous supply of doses by the Centre. “We have received only 9.38 lakh vaccine doses from May 1 to June 7… How can we provide free vaccination with such scanty and irregular supply?” he said.

Opposition leaders also accused the PM of playing politics over the vaccination drive by blaming state governments.

Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said the party and its leadership had been repeatedly demanding universal and free vaccination but the government kept ridiculing the suggestion. Now the government has done a somersault after the Supreme Court reprimand, he said.

Congress leader Anand Sharma said, “Finally a realisation of a flawed policy that led to the collapse of the national vaccination (drive), after the government resisted for months appeals for equitable and universal vaccination…The cost of the delay has been unbearable…”

The Congress, however, was critical of the decision to allow private hospitals to buy 25 per cent of the vaccines. “One simple question: If vaccines are free for all, why should private hospitals charge for them?” Rahul Gandhi asked. In a letter to the PM in April, he had suggested that state governments be given greater say in vaccine procurement and distribution.

CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury accused Modi of trying to defend his “dubious discriminatory vaccine policy” by passing the buck on to state governments. He said the government has abandoned its policy fearing a Supreme Court directive for a free and universal vaccination programme.

‘Took 4 months, but finally listened’

On May 12, leaders of 12 key opposition parties, including four CMs, wrote a joint letter to PM Narendra Modi, asking the Centre to procure vaccines centrally from global and domestic sources and begin a free, universal mass vaccination campaign across the country.

What 3 CMs said on Monday:

Mamata Banerjee: “Took him four months but after much pressure, he has FINALLY listened to us & implemented what we’ve been asking all this while…”

MK Stalin: States should now be “given complete control of registration, validation and administration procedures of the vaccination”.

Hemant Soren: “Jharkhand has already announced not to charge people in 18-44 group. The silver lining is procurement and supply will be taken care of by Centre, apart from the cost, but this could have been done before. Jharkhand has already paid Rs 47 crore to the two manufacturers.”