Chandigarh, June 4 (MNN) With Punjab Assembly elections only a few months away, the Congress government was caught on the wrong foot after accusation that around 42,000 Covaxin vaccines costing around Rs 400 per dose were sold to private hospitals for Rs 1,060 each, which in turn offered it for Rs 1,560 and above.
As the issue raised political temperatures, the state government on Friday withdrew its order to provide one-time limited vaccine doses to the 18-44 age group beneficiaries through private hospitals, but the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal demanded a case against state Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu and his arrest, apart from a probe into the ‘scam’.
Sidhu maintained he was not in the know of the matter and that there would be an inquiry into the matter.
The Punjab government has withdrawn its earlier order on giving vaccines to the private hospitals as it had not been taken in the right spirit, senior IAS officer Vikas Garg, who is the Nodal Officer for the vaccination drive in the northern state, said in a communique on Friday.
The private hospitals were also directed to return forthwith all the vaccine doses available with them and also return those used once they got the vaccines through direct supplies from the manufacturers.
Garg said in the order that the amount deposited by private hospitals in the Vaccine Fund would be refunded to them.
Shiromani Akali Dali leader Sukhbir Singh Badal tweeted: “Now that the Punjab government has admitted its policy to dole out vaccine doses to private hospitals at steep profit and allow them to earn similar profits was blatantly wrong, it should register a case against Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu and arrest him immediately. The scam should be probed by an independent agency.”
Meanwhile, Congress’ Rajya Sabha MP Pratap Singh Bajwa wrote to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Friday and pointed out that 40,000 doses of Covaxin vaccine had been sold to private hospitals in Punjab at Rs 1,060 per dose.
He pointed out that the sale was “confirmed by Punjab’s Nodal Officer Vikas Garg to various news sources.
The MP said that the policy is “absolutely uncalled for”, especially in the middle of this second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
“There is a shortage of vaccines across the country and even more so in Punjab. The government of Punjab received 1.14 lakh doses of Covaxin on May 27 after the stock of Covishield in the state was exhausted.
“Given the low numbers of people being vaccinated across the nation, the focus of the state government should have been to use these doses to vaccinate the masses.
“By looking to profit by selling over one third of the received doses to private hospitals, the government of Punjab has in effect failed in its duty to the people of Punjab,” Bajwa wrote in his letter to Amarinder Singh.
He alleged that the Punjab government had made a “profit” of Rs 2.64 crore through these sales. “What was the purpose of this profit? Furthermore, private hospitals have fixed Rs 1,560 per dose. It is extremely distressing that in the middle of the pandemic there are those who wish to make money instead of protecting the health of the people.”
Bajwa also demanded an inquiry into the matter and strict action against the “architects of this callous policy”.
Sidhu said as per information provided by Garg, about 42,000 doses were allotted to the private hospitals, of which only 600 doses have been used.
Sidhu said that all such vaccines taken back from the private hospitals will be administered free of cost to 18-44 age group at government vaccination centres.
He said that instruction has been issued to all Civil Surgeons that no fresh allotment be made to private hospitals.