Congress Covid Outreach

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By Sushil Silvano, Our Special Correspondent, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO:

Whenever Rahul Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi give sane advice on Covid management, the Modi Media , at the instance of the powers- that- be , starts alleging that they are playing politics over a national natural calamity. Ruling party leaders, too, are not far behind in labelling all their observations and warnings as ” petty politics “.

But this does not stop the Congress from actively putting out suggestions in the interest of the people of India.

Addressing a virtual meeting of party general secretaries and in-charges of AICC in various States on June 24, Congress President Sonia Gandhi asked party colleagues to play an active role in ensuring vaccination coverage of 75 % of India’s population by the year end and also address the issue of hesitancy with regard to COVID-19 vaccines.

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The party has decided to step up its COVID-19 outreach programme by visiting over 3 crore households across 736 districts in a span of 30 days.

According to K.C. Venugopal, general secretary ( Organisation) , from July 1 to 17, the Congress will also hold protests against rising prices of petrol and diesel as well as food items by taking out protest marches, cycle yatras and signature campaign at petrol pumps.

Ms. Sonia Gandhi said experts had pointed to the possibility of a third wave in a few months and the vulnerability of the children in such a scenario.

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“The second wave these past four months has been devastating for lakhs and lakhs of families all over the country. We must learn from this traumatic experience so that we do not have to experience it yet again,” Ms. Gandhi said.

She also urged party leaders to disseminate the party’s white paper (released on June 22) that not only details the “failure” of the Narendra Modi government in handling the pandemic but also offers suggestions in aggressively vaccinating the majority of the adult population in the shortest possible time.

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“At the national level, the daily rate of vaccination has to treble so that 75% of our population gets fully vaccinated by end of this year. No doubt, this is dependent entirely on the adequacy of vaccine supply. We must continue to put pressure on the Union government which has, at our Party’s insistence, finally taken on the responsibility for this. At the same time, we have to ensure that registration takes place, that vaccine hesitancy wherever evident is overcome and vaccine wastage is minimised,” she said.

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Each general secretary and State in-charge referred to the COVID relief measures undertaken in their States, with general secretary for Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, briefing her colleagues about work in the State. From providing government approved medicines kits to collecting data about COVID deaths, and children orphaned by the pandemic, the State unit has been directed to aggressively undertake the COVID outreach programme.

Significant is the fact that Sonia mentioned ” at our Party’s insistence ” ( the Central government had finally taken on the responsibility for vaccination).

It may be recalled that after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced with great elan his new liberalised Vaccine Policy in April- end authorising the States to buy their own vaccine, Sonia Gandhi had angrily reacted by alleging the modified vaccine policy was not only ‘discriminatory but also a complete abandonment of the youth’ and urged the government to reverse it.

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Ms. Gandhi, in a letter, asked, “In these sad times, how can the Government of India permit such brazen profiteering from people’s misery?”

She said the aim of the government should be to vaccinate everyone above 18, regardless of their economic circumstances, but “the policy implies that the Government of India has abdicated its responsibility to provide free vaccination for citizens between the age group of 18 to 45 years”.

” It is surprising that despite the harsh lessons of last year and the pain inflicted on our citizens, the Government continues to follow an arbitrary and discriminatory policy, which promises to exacerbate existing challenges,” she said.

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It may be mentioned here that the Serum Institute of India (SII), which manufactures Covishield, had announced three rate slabs: ₹150 for the Central Government, ₹400 for State Governments and ₹600 for private hospitals per dose.

“This means that citizens will be compelled to pay these high rates to be vaccinated. This will also bleed the finances of State Governments. This begs the question, how can the same vaccine manufactured by the same company have three different prices? There is no rationale or justification that allows for such arbitrary distinction,” Ms. Gandhi noted.

“At a time when medical resources are scarce, hospital beds are unavailable, oxygen supply and availability of essential medicine is dwindling rapidly, why is your Government allowing a policy that reeks of such insensitivity,” she added.

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Ms. Gandhi also demanded transparency and equity with regard to the 50% quota for vaccination available with the Central government.

“The Indian National Congress has already demanded a re-evaluation of this policy. Surely, any reasonable person will agree on the benefit of a uniform price for vaccination. I would urge you to intervene immediately and reverse this ill-considered decision,” she demanded.

But for the pressure mounted by the Congress and the Congress State governments along with AAP government in Delhi, the vaccination policy would not have been reversed.

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A Supreme Court observation a few days later by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud too forced the Modi government to reverse its liberalised vaccine policy.

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Days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi  announced free COVID inoculation for all above 18 years from June 21, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to review its vaccination policy saying it was “prima facie arbitrary and irrational” in allowing States and private hospitals to charge people in the 18-44 age group for the jabs.

It may be recalled that in his address to the nation, Modi said the central government will provide free coronavirus vaccine to states for inoculation of all above the age of 18 from June 21 as the government had decided to buy 75 per cent of jabs from vaccine makers, including 25 per cent of the state quota, and give it for free to states.

THE APEX COURT WAS HEARING A SUO MOTU CASE ON COVID-19 MANAGEMENT IN THE COUNTRY.

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The development assumes significance as the central government was posed a slew of searching queries by a bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud on liberalised vaccination policy and differential pricing of vaccines for the Centre, states and private hospitals.

UNDER THE TWO PHASES OF VACCINATION, FRONTLINE HEALTHCARE WORKERS AND THOSE ABOVE 45 YEARS WERE GIVEN FREE JABS BY THE CENTRE AND THEN CAME THE LIBERALISED VACCINATION POLICY UNDER WHICH DIFFERENTIAL PRICING POLICY WAS INTRODUCED AND IT CAME UNDER THE SCRUTINY.

Observing that courts cannot be “silent spectators” when Constitutional rights of citizens are infringed by executive policies, the bench, in its order which was uploaded on June 2, had slammed the vaccination policy, describing it as “prima facie arbitrary and irrational” and ordered its review.

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The apex court had also asked the Centre to provide information including as to how Rs 35,000 crore, earmarked for vaccines in the budget, has been spent so far, and to place on record all relevant documents and file notings reflecting its thinking culminating in the policy within two weeks.

Flagging concerns like differential pricing, the top court had said, “We direct the Union of India (UoI) to undertake a fresh review of its vaccination policy addressing the concerns raised.”

The policy that the Centre would purchase 50 per cent of jabs and 25 per cent each would be taken by states and private hospitals also saw the change as the Prime Minister announced that now the Centre would buy 75 per cent of jabs from vaccine makers, including 25 per cent of the state quota and give it for free to states.

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“The Union Budget for Financial Year 2021-2022 had earmarked Rs. 35,000 crore for procuring vaccines. In light of the Liberalized Vaccination Policy, the Central Government is directed to clarify how these funds have been spent so far and why they cannot be utilized for vaccinating persons aged 18-44 years,” the bench, also comprising justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, had said.

“Hence, due to the importance of vaccinating individuals in the 18-44 age group, the policy of the Central Government for conducting free vaccination themselves for groups under the first 2 phases, and replacing it with paid vaccination by the State/UT Governments and private hospitals for the persons between 18-44 years is, prima facie, arbitrary and irrational, the Bench had observed.

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Compiled and Curated By Humra Kidwai

Sushil Silvano

Mr. Sushil Silvano, our special correspondent is a celebrated veteran Journalist and Author and is currently based in Mumbai, India. He is the National Secretary of the Indian Journalists Union, an affiliate of the "International Federation of Journalists". He strongly believes in developing awareness through the power of Media and has chaired the Mumbai Chapter of Public Relations Council of India (PRCI) and is currently the Chairman of the Lucknow Chapter of PRCI.

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