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‘No vaccination? No ration or pension’: Karnataka IAS officer’s vaccine push backfires

MR Ravi, deputy commissioner of Chamarajanagar, said Covid vaccination would be made a condition for accessing rations & pensions. But then he issued a clarification. 

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Bengaluru: IAS officer M.R. Ravi, who serves as the deputy commissioner of Chamarajanagar district in Karnataka, has come under severe criticism after he sought to make Covid vaccination a condition for accessing rations under welfare schemes and pensions from the government.

Speaking to the media at his office Tuesday evening, Ravi talked about the launch of schemes such as “No vaccination, No rations” and “No vaccination, no pension” from 1 September. 

Following a backlash, the district administration issued a clarification Wednesday morning, insisting that no official orders to this effect had been issued. The clarification was signed by Ravi.

A day later, Karnataka’s chief secretary issued standing orders to all deputy commissioners to refrain from such schemes. In a circular issued to deputy commissioners and health officers of all districts Thursday, Chief Secretary P. Ravi Kumar said welfare schemes of the government including pensions and rations cannot be clubbed with the vaccination drive.
“Since the government has not linked Covid-19 vaccination to availing benefits under social welfare schemes and programmes, deputy commissioners and district health officers are hereby directed to not impose any conditions on citizens to avail vaccines. Instead, it is appealed that officials take to awareness campaigns and ensure that the inoculation drive is a success,” the circular stated.

Viral video

M.R. Ravi had previously been in the news in May this year, during the second Covid wave, when 24 patients died because of a suspected oxygen shortage at the Chamarajanagar district hospital.

A video of the IAS officer, announcing the two schemes and lauding vaccination rates in the district, has gone viral. 

“The district administration has so far achieved 75 per cent of its target in inoculating those above the age of 18. With the intent of saving lives and keeping our citizens healthy, we will launch a new programme starting 1 September,” he is heard saying in the video. 

“We will make vaccines mandatory for those seeking rations under the Public Distribution System (PDS). We will launch it with the slogan ‘No vaccination, No rations’. Likewise, ‘No vaccination, No pension’ will be launched. We have already notified all banks and have issued directions,” he added.

Ravi then offers an estimate for the number of people likely to be covered by the schemes. “There are 2.9 lakh people with BPL (below poverty line) and Antyodaya cards who avail of rations from PDS. There are about 2.2 lakh people who avail of pension benefits from the government,” he added. Seeking to justify the move, he said, “Citizens are reluctant towards inoculation and these new programmes are meant to ensure they understand the importance of vaccination.” 

Within hours of his statement, the district administration issued a five-line statement.

“We have taken note of a few news articles titled ‘No vaccination, No ration’, ‘No pension’. The district administration has not issued any official orders in this regard. Hence, there is no question of denying rations or pension to beneficiaries. This clarification has been issued henceforth,” the statement said, steering clear of any references to the video statement. 


Also Read: Slow-growing second dose virus delays Sputnik V’s entry into India’s govt vaccination drive


‘Ridiculous, colonial’

On social media, the announcement of the schemes by Ravi was panned by users as “ridiculous” and “colonial”.

 

Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president D.K. Shivakumar said on Twitter that “such denial of basic food and pension is illegal, unethical, unconstitutional”. At a press conference Wednesday, he called for the officer to be suspended.

Karnataka has so far administered 4.36 crore shots of Covid vaccines, of which 1.07 crore are second doses. 

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

(This report has been updated with the Karnataka Chief Secretary’s circular, issued Thursday)


Also Read: India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive has a ‘missing women’ problem. It needs to be addressed


 

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