Mamata calls Centre’s vaccine policy anti-people; West Bengal records 11,948 new COVID cases on a day when Assembly election sixth phase sees a high turnout

Published : April 22, 2021 22:08 IST

Folk artists perform at a Trinamool Congress rally ahead of the sixth phase of the Assembly election, in Kolkata on April 20 Photo: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee once again trained her guns on the Centre’s vaccine policy, calling it “highly discriminatory and anti-people.” In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi dated April 22, Mamata has written that the Centre’s policy of “liberalised and accelerated Phase 3 strategy of COVID-19 vaccination programme” that is to begin from May 1 has a “bias in favour of market against the interest of common people”.

She slammed the differential pricing of the vaccine, saying, “GOI gets vaccines from manufacturers @ Rs 150 per dose, while you have fixed for us, the States, a price of Rs 400 per dose…. This is anti-federal and anti-poor. The States will buy vaccines for the poor and the young, hence your policy is both anti-poor and anti-youth.” Mamata pointed out that such differentiation of rates is unheard of in Indian history. “In a grave situation like the one the country is facing now, there is no place for making business by the vaccine manufacturers. Every effort in this situation should be directed towards the common good of people without any difference or discrimination,” Mamata wrote.

She also alleged that fixing the rate at Rs.600 a dose for private hospitals is “unhealthy” and “likely to trigger unscrupulous mechanisms in the market”. Mamata reiterated her demand that “every Indian should get free vaccine regardless of age, caste, creed, location, at one price, irrespective of who pays – the Centre or the State”.

In an election rally the same day, Mamata blamed the Prime Minister for the prevailing scarcity of vaccines, saying that he had sent the vaccines to other countries. She said that after May 5, her government will ensure free vaccination for everyone in the State. The results of the ongoing Assembly election are to be declared on May 2.

In the sixth phase of the election on April 22, people in 43 constituencies in the districts of Purba Bardhaman (8), Nadia (9), Uttar Dinajpur (9) and North 24 Parganas (17) voted. A high percentage of voting was witnessed amid sporadic violence. The voter turnout till 5 p.m. was 79.09 per cent. Nadia saw the highest percentage of voting at 82.67 per cent, followed by Purba Bardhaman (82.15 per cent), Uttar Dinajpur (77.76 per cent) and North 24 Parganas (75.94 per cent).

Meanwhile, with COVID-19 cases increasing by leaps and bounds, the Calcutta High Court, on April 22, expressed its dissatisfaction with the Election Commission’s enforcement of COVID-19 norms during the election and campaigning. A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice T.B.N. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee, said: “We are not satisfied with the materials on record to state that the Election Commission of India and its officers on ground in West Bengal have enforced their circulars.". The EC said that the Commission would “abide by the directions of the honourable High Court” and “is very much seized and concerned about the gravity of the situation”.

On April 22, the State recorded 11,948 new COVID cases and 56 deaths. The total number of active cases stood at 74,100. Even in the face of a full-blown calamity, election campaigns have gone on with crowds of thousands in different parts of the State.