Profiteering from pandemic: 80k vials already sold, officials now say it was one-time measure
A day after Hindustan Times report exposed how the Punjab government was minting money in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) by selling Covaxin doses procured from its quota to the private hospitals, the state authorities on Thursday said that it was only a one-time measure.
So far, 80,000 doses have been sold to private facilities, 30,000 of which went to a single hospital in Mohali, an official said, requesting anonymity. The government could have earned more than ₹5 crore from the sale of vaccines.
The report created uproar with various opposition leaders, including Union minister of state Anurag Thakur, SAD chief Sukhbir Badal, Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal, taking on the Punjab government for “making profit from the pandemic”.
Nodal officer for the vaccination and senior IAS officer Vikas Garg, who on Wednesday had justified the state government’s decision saying profit will be used only to buy vaccines, said it was only a one-time measure and no private hospital will get the doses henceforth. “The decision of providing vaccine doses to private hospitals was taken on public demand,” he added.
However, Hindustan Times has learnt that it was a well-thought-out move to create CSR fund by selling the vaccine procured at ₹400 for ₹1,060. The report also highlighted how private hospitals were further charging at least ₹1,560 per dose from the customers.
An official privy to the developments, requesting anonymity, said the ‘one-time-measure’ statement came after discussions among senior health functionaries who were the brain behind the idea of generating funds from vaccines. HT has learnt that the vaccine was provided to some private hospitals on Thursday as well against the advance payments made by them.
Earlier in the day, Union minister of state for finance Anurag Thakur accused the Punjab government of “black-marketing”. “Punjab has shown a careless and callous attitude towards the people of the state by charging four times from people for the jab. Why should an individual pay over ₹3,120 for two doses when the Centre is providing vaccines free to the state government. Instead of facilitating the vaccination process, Punjab government is looting the people amid the pandemic,” he said.
“Will Rahul Gandhi investigate why vaccines have been supplied to Congress cronies who are charging a ‘pandemic premium’ and indulging in black-marketing instead of saving the lives of the poor? And does he have the courage to question his own party government in Punjab,” Thakur said.
Former Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal also shared the HT report on her Twitter handle, saying, “Amarinder government created an artificial shortage of Covid vaccine in government hospitals and then sold the vials to private hospitals at a premium. Earlier, he handed over ventilators to private hospitals, which charged hefty fee from patient. Profiteering from people’s misery, how low can this government fall!”
Reached out by HT, health minister Balbir Singh Sidhu distanced himself from the government’s controversial decision to sell the state’s vaccine quota to private hospitals on premium. “ Only nodal officer for vaccination Vikas Garg and chief secretary Vini Mahajan can reply on vaccinations being sold to private hospitals. I can only tell you about the testing, number of cases and many other things,” he said.