Decision came after Supreme Court questioned policy, say NCP, Congress ministers

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who is leading a delegation of his cabinet ministers for a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi on Tuesday, did not respond to PM Narendra Modi’s announcement of a new policy for central procurement of vaccines, neither did the Shiv Sena, but ministers of the Congress and NCP said the decision came due to questioning of the government’s vaccine policy by the Supreme Court.

Maharashtra was one of the first states to demand of the Centre that it be allowed to procure vaccines independently. There was a cabinet resolution in this regard in April, and in the first week of May Thackeray wrote to the PM reiterating this demand.

But the state government changed its mind when the difficulties became apparent. On being told by the Centre to procure 25 per cent of its vaccine requirement under the earlier vaccine policy, Maharashtra floated global tenders and received no credible expressions of interest, with manufacturers staying away and only middlemen with no links to the vaccine companies showing interest. The different prices set by domestic manufacturers SII and Bharat Biotech for procurement by the Centre and states also rankled.

By the third week of May, the state government had as good as given up trying to procure from manufacturers abroad. Health Minister Rajesh Tope said the Centre should float a global tender to prevent “unhealthy competition” between states for procurement.

On Monday, soon after PM Modi announced the new policy, Congress minister in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government Balasaheb Thorat said the Union government woke up to take responsibility for the vaccines after being questioned by the Supreme Court.

“For all the vaccination drives in the past, the Centre had taken the responsibility, but the Modi government had shifted the responsibility to the states. The Centre’s vaccination policy was criticised from across the country and the SC had also raised some questions on it. So, the Centre was left with no option but to accept the responsibility,” said Thorat.

He further said that since the Centre has taken the responsibility, it is expected that it will implement it properly. “To hide his failure after the SC questioned, Modi cleverly spoke about states’ inability in vaccinating people and their demands that the Centre should take responsibility. Maharashtra had taken the decision to procure the vaccine by making a one-time payment but the Centre’s stubborn attitude did not speed up the drive,” said Thorat.

Nawab Malik, NCP minister and the party’s chief spokesperson, said the PM took the decision to improve the image of the government, which was dented after the SC raised questions on the Centre’s vaccination policy and differential rates for the Centre and states in procuring the vaccines. “The SC had also questioned why the rates of vaccines are different for the states and the Centre. The apex court had asked the Union government to submit an affidavit asking why it was not spending money despite a provision of Rs 35,000 crore,” said Malik.

“As the SC had pointed fingers at the decision of the Union government, the PM made an announcement of taking complete responsibility for supplying vaccines to improve the image of the government. Now, we hope that states will get the vaccine supply as per demand,” he added.
On April 20, the state cabinet had unanimously decided to request the Union government to allow Maharashtra to import the Covid vaccines available in the international market. Jitendra Awhad, NCP minister, said then that vaccine production in the country was limited and not enough for the country’s population. “So, special permission should be given to Maharashtra to import the various vaccines such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sputnik to vaccinate the large population of the state. The CM will soon write to the Centre requesting the same,” Awhad had said.

On May 8, in a letter to the PM, Thackeray asked that states be allowed to develop their own vaccination app as CO-WIN was suffering from repeated crashes. He also said that if states were allowed procure from “other manufacturers as well, we would be able to cover a larger population in a shorter time and help reduce the impact of the possible third wave of Covid-19.”

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