In letter to PM, Oppn leaders seek free mass inoculation, O2 relief
Top leaders from 12 Opposition parties -- including Sonia Gandhi of the Congress, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, and Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin of the DMK -- have sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi putting across eight demands, including the central procurement of all vaccines and a universal free inoculation drive.
The leaders also asked that the Central Vista revamp project be stopped, and its funds be diverted to procure oxygen and other essential materials.
In the letter, the leaders argued that they have “repeatedly in the past” drawn the PM’s attention to the measures, which are “absolutely imperative” for the Central government to undertake and implement.
“Unfortunately, your government has either ignored or refused all these suggestions. This only compounded the situation to reach such an apocalyptic human tragedy,” the letter said.
The letter was also signed by former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular), Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Tejashwi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, and D Raja of the CPI.
The letter asked the PM to “procure vaccines centrally from all available sources - global and domestic” and “immediately begin a free, universal mass vaccination campaign across the country”. It urged the PM to “invoke compulsory licensing to expand domestic vaccine production. Spend budgetary allocation of Rs. 35,000 crores for the vaccines.”
According to submissions by the Union government to the top court, India has a capacity of 85 million doses from two manufacturers for the month of May. This number is inadequate for the peak vaccination rate of four million a day recorded in the country in the first half of April. Since the drive began on January 16, India has on average administered about 1.5 million doses a day.
At least 10 states have said they will float tenders to procure doses from vaccine makers based outside of the country, although most vaccine makers have already committed much of their 2021 supplies to other nations already.
The letter said that the unemployed should be given at least ₹6,000 per month each, and there must be free distribution of foodgrains to the needy as over 10 million tonne of foodgrain is currently lying in central godowns.
It also invoked the three controversial farm laws, which were passed last year and have sparked protests by farmer groups since then, and asked that these be repealed to “protect lakhs of our annadatas (providers) becoming victims of the pandemic so that they can continue to produce food to feed the Indian people”.
To be sure, most of these demands have been repeatedly raised by the Opposition parties in the last few months.