Raipur: Chhattisgarh has further divided the age categories in which Covid vaccines are being administered in the country. The Bhupesh Baghel government has divided those in the 18-44 age bracket for vaccinations into Antyodaya [ration] card holders, those below poverty line (BPL) and those above poverty line (APL) categories.
While the state had initially planned to vaccinate Antyodaya card holders first, following a rap from the state High Court, the government has now divided one-third of available vaccine doses for each category. The state maintains, however, that its plan to first vaccinate only Antyodaya PDS card holders, was correct.
The state government was forced to revise its vaccination plan for the fourth phase announced on 30 April – to first inoculate only to Antyodaya PDS card holders, the economically weakest section of society – after the high court issued an order against it on 4 May. The high court directed the state to include every qualifying individual in the immunisation drive for 18-44 year olds.
The state government has clarified that its plan to vaccinate Antyoday ration card holders first was not to exclude others – the state has committed to provide free vaccines to all those in the age of 18-44 years – but was done to ensure best use of available vaccine doses, which are already in short supply. It had chosen to vaccinate Antyodaya card holders first since they are among the most vulnerable in society, the government said.
Many have, however, questioned this plan, arguing that it would have led to further corruption and denied others of timely and much needed protection from Covid. While the court had initially taken suo motu cognisance of the government order, public interest litigations (PIL), were also subsequently filed against it.
Chhattisgarh needs nearly 1.34 crore doses of vaccine to inoculate everyone in the 18-44 year-old category.
Amidst a nationwide shortage of vaccine doses, the state was, for a very long time, not sure whether it will be able to start vaccination for 18-44 year olds on time. However, after the government was informed on 30 April that 1.5 lakh doses of vaccines will reach the state by 1 May, the government had come up with this plan.
‘Needed to prioritise’
Explaining its decision to vaccinate those in the 18-44 year old category in phases, Chhattisgarh health minister T.S. Singh Deo, told ThePrint, “We had to start vaccinating the 18-44 year-old age group with only 1.5 lakh doses, received on 1 May. We had made a demand for 50 lakh doses. That’s the reason why we decided to vaccinate only the most vulnerable group of society first. It was fully justified and the right approach in the given situation.”
Describing the Antyodaya card holders as the “most deprived and vulnerable” people, Deo said, “We prioritised to vaccinate Antyodaya Ration card holders first as they are the most marginalised group. Several among them often live under one roof and are under constant threat of being infected. Many of them don’t even have mobile phones and internet connections to ensure online registration for vaccination.”
The minister maintained that the government would have vaccinated the others eventually. “Rather than sitting on the available stock and wait for sufficient numbers to arrive, we decided to make judicious use of the doses. There was nothing wrong in it, but we respect the High Court’s interim order and have revised the plan in accordance with that” he added.
Deo said the Chhatisgrah government had only come up with the plan to deal with shortage of vaccines.
What the HC ruled
In an order against the government’s 30 April decision to vaccinate Antyodaya card holders first, the Bilaspur High Court had said on 4 May that “financial status alone may not be correct or sustainable” way to decide on whom to vaccinate.
The High Court ordered that the “state government shall fix a reasonable ratio of allotment of vaccines to Antyodaya group, the persons belonging to the BPL and the persons belonging to the APL.”
Following this the state government had issued another order on 5 May, informing that it was stopping fourth-phase vaccinations for the time being, to come up with a fresh policy in accordance with the HC order.
However in its next hearing on 7 May, the HC again pulled up the state government, for stopping vaccinations and directed it to distribute one-third of available doses to the three sub-categories.
Chaos and corruption
“We are not casting aspersions against the government’s intentions to offer relief to the needy, but they must also honour the rights of tax payers,” Mohit Singhania, one of the applicants in the case, told ThePrint.
Adding that the quota system will lead to more chaos and corruption, Singhania, who had been the first to file an intervention application against the government order in court, said the government could instead have started a separate registration for the economically backward group. Iterating that the formula of giving one-third vaccine doses to each group was also inadequate, Singhania said he will challenge it again in court.
Meanwhile, the government is carrying on vaccinations based on the one-third formula. While officials admit that the process is slow, they are hopeful that the situation will improve by the end of next month.
“The government has opened nearly 700 new vaccination centres, taking the total number of centres in the state to nearly 920,” said the state’s vaccination in-charge Dr Amar Singh Thakur.
“These centres have been grouped in three separate categories in accordance with the HC order. So far we have received five lakh doses for the 18-44 year-old category. More stocks of Covaxin are expected after 15 May. This will keep us going, slowly. Supply of vaccine doses is likely to remain low till June end, but will improve after that,” he said.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)