Bengal residents get vaccinated in Bihar to escape paying ‘illegal commission’
30-year-old Wasim, a resident of Bhaluka village of West Bengal’s Malda district says he saved ₹500 and a lot of time and energy by opting to receive the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine at a public health centre in Bihar’s Katihar district, instead of Bengal.
“In Bengal, we have to pay ₹600, even ₹800, but in Bihar, health officials have charged just ₹100,” he said, suggesting there was a huge difference in the alleged illegal commission one was required to pay in the two states to get vaccinated.
He is not the only one to make such a claim, another resident from West Bengal’s Malda district, 35–year-old Mohammad Saifuddin too got vaccinated at Amdabad public health centre (PHC) in Katihar last Saturday. He said his experience wasn’t any different. “We are happy paying ₹100 as against the ₹600 one has to pay in our state” he alleged “There is complete chaos in West Bengal in administering jabs,” he added.
Some other Bengal residents said they preferred Bihar’s PHCs for vaccination as they were nearer. “In Bengal, we have to walk about 10 kms to get vaccinated, but Amdabad PHC is just 2km from our village,” said Mohammad Munna, resident of Harischandrapur area of Malda district.
These cross-border trips and allegations of illegal commission sought for vaccines that are meant to be given free of cost at government health centres came to light on Monday after a few men from Bengal posted video clips on social media narrating their experiences of vaccination centres in their state of residence and neighbouring Bihar.
Taking a strong view of the allegations made in the video clips, Katihar district magistrate (DM) Udyan Mishra asked Katihar civil surgeon DN Pandey and Manihari sub divisional officer (SDO) Kumar Siddharth to probe if officials at the PHC in Bihar were charging ₹100 as ‘convenience’ fee for vaccinating beneficiaries.
“It is totally wrong to charge money for free vaccines” the Katihar DM said, and added, “Manihari SDO and Katihar civil surgeon have been asked to probe the matter.”
Mishra said the veracity of the video clips will be examined first, however, he agreed that a large number of residents from neighbouring Bengal were regularly visiting health centres in Bihar to get vaccinated.
Amdabad PHC officials, however, denied the allegations of charging a fee for vaccination and suggested that the video posts could have been aimed to “defame” the health system in Bihar.
A senior Katihar district administrative officer claimed that the vaccination drive in Bengal was not as smooth as Bihar. However, a senior health department official from West Bengal said they had not received any such complaints and would act if they received one in future.
Katihar created a record by administering 86,081 doses on September 17 against the target of 80,000. In Bihar, over 50 million people have been given at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine so far.