A day after Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan accused the Maharashtra government of attempting to cover up its ‘failures’ by making misleading statements regarding COVID-19 vaccine availability, the Congress on Thursday hit out at Mr. Vardhan with Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee chief Nana Patole demanding that he apologise to the State.
“Ever since the second wave hit Maharashtra, the State government has constantly been requesting the Centre for more vaccines and financial assistance. We condemn the manner in which the Union Health Minister accused Maharashtra yesterday. He has insulted the State,” Mr. Patole said, adding that COVID-19 management was also the responsibility of the Central government.
The State Congress chief accused the BJP of playing politics at every level at a time of grave crisis.
The Congress’ national panel spokesperson, Anant Gadgil, said that the fact that the Centre had not yet supplied the urgently required vaccine stock to Maharashtra was proof of a deliberate design on the Narendra Modi government’s part to malign the State’s image.
“Ideally, the Centre ought to have given more vaccine doses to Maharashtra in view of the alarming case spike here. Furthermore, it should have permitted the State government to completely vaccinate the most-affected districts of the State as nine of 10 of the worst-hit districts in the country are from Maharashtra,” he said.
Mr. Gadgil said that as per news reports, the combined vaccine-producing capacity of Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India was only 2.5 crore per year.
“At this rate, it will take years for every Indian to be vaccinated. If it is not delivering vaccines to the State at the required pace, it must at least permit foreign pharmaceutical companies to enter the Indian market,” he said.
Accusing the BJP of attempting to destabilise the MVA alliance in Maharashtra, Mr. Gadgil wondered why there were no COVID-19 cases being reported from poll-bound States.
“I have never seen or heard Prime Minister Modi or Home Minister Amit Shah appealing to people to strictly adhere to ‘social distancing’ in any of their election rallies in places like West Bengal. But the Centre conveniently casts aspersions on the Maharashtra government’s alleged failure to make its citizens to adhere to pandemic norms. In reality, we are among the few States to publish data in a transparent manner as well as impose harsh restrictions,” Mr. Gadgil said.
Refuting the Congress’ allegations, BJP Leader of Opposition and former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that only three States — Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan — had received more than one crore vaccines.
“Gujarat and Rajasthan have the same population while there is a Congress government in Rajasthan. The supply of vaccines is not on the basis of population, but on the basis of vaccination performance of each State. Maharashtra has received 1.06 crore vaccines of which 91 lakh were used while 15 lakh are still left. So, what is the reason for the MVA government to deliberately close down vaccine centres on Thursday and spreading false news about non-availability of vaccine stock?” Mr. Fadnavis alleged.
He further said that vaccine deliveries to States were already in the pipeline. Maharashtra would be getting an additional 19 lakh vaccine doses between April 9 and 12, he said.
‘Uttar Pradesh being the largest State had received 92 lakh doses of which the government has utilised 83 lakh doses. Haryana did not get many doses in the first tranche and are only receiving vaccine doses now,” the BJP leader claimed.
Mr. Fadnavis said that he had personally spoken to the Union Health Minister who had assured him that there would be no discrimination against Maharashtra.
“From the very first day in this war against the pandemic, the Centre has fought together with all States and has given maximum assistance to Maharashtra. Even today, the Central government stands shoulder to shoulder with the State. Regrettably, it is the MVA which has utterly failed in fulfilling basic responsibilities in combating the pandemic,” Mr. Fadnavis said.
He said that it was the State administration that was squarely to blame for the deplorable situation where patients had to face non-availability of ventilator beds, oxygen supply, and other health infrastructure deficiencies.
“Vaccines are coming and will keep coming. However, not being able to provide even basic services will only aggravate this crisis. Will the Chief Minister and the State Health Minister pay attention to this?” Mr. Fadnavis demanded.