Skip to main content

Profits before people? Vaccine diplomacy: Why is Modi govt losing out globally


By Shobha Shukla, Bobby Ramakant, Sandeep Pandey*

Narendra Modi once said he is a Gujarati and understands business. As time passes his business model is getting exposed and he is becoming more shameless like any ordinary businessman. It is quite clear to the people that he is not withdrawing the three controversial farm laws because all the three laws are meant to benefit the private corporations at the cost of farmers.
In fact, the farmers’ movement has also openly targeted Adani and Ambani in addition to Narendra Modi as their enemies. Graphic flex banners are visible at the protest sites at Singhu and Tikri.
Modi government very smartly made changes in political donation rules. Donations could now be made in the form of electoral bonds through an opaque system. In the name of protecting donors, it was not possible to find out the details of donations made even under Right to Information Act, India’s transparency law.
In addition, for companies making political donations the limit of 7.5% on average profit of past three years was done away with. Under this new system the political parties are exempt from reporting any donation above Rs 20,000 to the Election Commission, a requirement otherwise, if it is received in the form of electoral bonds.
Farmers suspect that Bhartiya Janata Party has received huge donations from Ambani and Adani through this anti-democratic and unethical system created by it and therefore its hands are tied when it comes to considering repeal of the three farms laws.
The same quid pro quo system is on display in Covid vaccine purchases now. Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech are the new beneficiaries chosen by the Modi government. In times of unprecedented crisis when people are tormented to the extreme, the two private companies have announced the prices at which they will sell the vaccines to government and private hospitals.
The question is why is the government giving them a free hand? Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram has suggested that the government should invoke compulsory licensing and invite price bids from other pharmaceutical manufacturers to reveal the true cost of the vaccines.
Most opposition state governments have opposed this differential pricing system for central government (Rs 150), state governments (Rs 400 for Covishield and Rs 600 for Covaxin), private hospitals (Rs 600 for Covishield and Rs 1200 for Covaxin), and for foreign buyers. But BJP governments – like the one in Uttar Pradesh – has gone ahead and announced that it will procure 1 crore vaccines, half each from Serum and Bharat Biotech.
Why is Yogi Adityanath wasting precious public resources on arbitrary prices set by two companies? Why is he not asking the Prime Minister to procure the vaccines at a price at which they were sold so far, Rs 150 per dose, and supply to him so that his government can vaccinate people for free. Mass production is supposed to bring down prices. But defying this normal principle Serum and Bharat Biotech have increased their prices as their production capacities have gone up.
Adar Poonawalla, the new blue eyed boy of Modi, has announced that in order to save thousands of crores of state funds and countless lives by vaccination he is reducing the price at which the vaccine will be sold by his company Serum to state governments from Rs 400 to Rs 300 per dose. Isn’t it an admission that Adar Poonawalla is profiteering at the expense of public money and depriving people of life by escalating the price of vaccine? People expect from Adar Poonawalla to save more government money and more lives.
Let us not forget that 97% of research and development of Covishield was done by AstraZeneca/Oxford using public funding
Former Health Secretary . Sujatha Rao has questioned the wisdom of central government abdicating its responsibility and passing it on to state governments and private sector to inoculate a major chunk of population between the ages of 18 and 44 years. She finds it preposterous that state governments are expected to buy vaccines at rates decided by private companies.
Senior journalist Karan Thapar has accused the government of indulging in tactical game playing by first reaching an agreement with Serum Institute to buy 10 crore vaccines last year but placing an order for only 1 to 2 crores each time. This, when a sum of Rs 35,000 crores had been set aside for vaccination in the budget and unknown amount is lying with PM Cares fund.
The abysmally low rate of vaccination of the much touted ‘world’s largest vaccination programme’ is because of the government dragging its feet and trying to act smart. Looks like the businessman in Modi got the better of the statesman in him.
Modi government took credit earlier this month when it announced that from of May 1, 2021, everyone above 18 years of age in the country will be eligible to get a vaccine. 
But on April 23, 2021, Rajesh Bhushan, Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in central government wrote a letter to all the states and union territories that the vaccination for 18-44 years will only be available in private sector in the country (for which people have to pay of course), and if the state or union territory wants to offer it in government healthcare services then they will have to procure the vaccine at the inflated rate directly from the manufacturer(s).
Moreover, all over the world there is strong precedence when so many countries have pooled in their demands for medicines or diagnostics or vaccines for global price negotiations at the lowest possible rate to ensure that the same high quality of affordable medicines or diagnostics or vaccines are offered in all those countries. But Modi government is doing just the opposite to benefit the chosen corporations.
Let us not forget that 97% of research and development of Covishield was done by AstraZeneca/Oxford using public funding, due to which it was promised that the vaccine will be rolled out at no profit. But Adar Poonawalla wants to mint ‘super profit’ as told by him in a news.
Also, the essential part of research for Covaxin was done in government’s National Institute of Virology (an Indian Council of Medical Research institute), and then it was handed over to Bharat Biotech for further development. We wonder if the government owns the intellectual property rights for Covaxin because it was the government (and not Bharat Biotech) which chose additional manufacturer for Covaxin, Haffkine.
If it is so, then Modi government is losing a golden opportunity to scale higher standards of ‘vaccine diplomacy’ worldwide – it should immediately allow every other manufacturer within India and worldwide who wants to make Covaxin and help fight the pandemic. If the government fails to do so, then it will further expose its agenda of putting profits before people.
---
*Shobha Shukla is with Citizen News Service (CNS); Bobby Ramankant is with CNS and Socialist Party (India); Sandeep Pandey, a Magsaysay award winning social activist, is with Socialist Party (India)

Comments

TRENDING

Whither Govt of India strategy to reduce import dependence on crude oil, natural gas?

By NS Venkataraman*  India presently imports around 80% of it’s crude oil requirement and around 50% of its natural gas requirements . As the domestic production of crude oil and natural gas are virtually stagnant and the domestic demand is increasing at around 7% per annum, India’s steadily increasing dependence on import of the vital energy source is a matter of high energy security concern. This is particularly so, since the price of crude oil and natural gas are considerably fluctuating / increasing in the global market due to geo political factors, which are beyond the control of India. India has promised to achieve zero emission by the year 2070, which mean that the level of emission has to start declining at slow and steady rate from now onwards. It is now well recognized that global emission is caused largely due to use of coal as fuel and natural gas as fuel and feedstock. While burning of coal as fuel cause emission of global warming carbon dioxide gas and sulphur

'Blatant violation' of law by Central government in making NREGA payments

By Our Representative  In September third week, NREGA workers across the country were mobilised for two day so raise their issues and submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister. Organised the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM), a collective of groups that work with NREGA labourers across the country, workers from 13 states -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal -- carried out Kaam Do Abhiyaan, staging demonstrations and rallies against what they called blatant violation of law by the Central government in making NREGA payments. While NREGA has had very positive impacts, it has lately become fruitless, exploiting labour, even though workers who have put in honest hard work have to wait for their wages endlessly, it was suggested.  In such a situation, there is a need to firm up NREGA implementation and end systematic corruption to ensure that workers get their basic NREGA entit

Fascism on prowl? Religious meet 'deeply pained' at silence of Church, bishops, priests

Counterview Desk  The ‘Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace’which held its 17th National Convention at the Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad, Telangana from 22 to 24 September 2022 on the theme “Deepening our Identity as Religious: Responding to the Signs of the Times”, has expressed concern “at the deteriorating situation of our nation on every front”, especially stating, “Fascism seems to have come to stay” in India. At the same time, the convention, which took place with the participation of 60 persons from 16 states representing 20 religious congregations, in its unanimously-adopted statement added, “We have reached abysmal depths on every parameter: be it social, economic and political”, underlining, “The poor in India become poorer every day; the rich and powerful continue to profiteer at their expense and amass scandalous amounts of wealth.” Text: We, members (63 women and men Religious, from 16 states representing 20 Congregations) of the Forum of Religious for Justice

Muslim intellectuals met Bhagwat, extra-constitutional authority 'like Sanjay Gandhi'

By Shamsul Islam*  In a significant development a delegation of five Muslim intellectuals namely former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi; former senior bureaucrat Najeeb Jung; former AMU vice-chancellor and Lt Gen (retd) Zameer U Shah; politician-cum-journalist Shahid Siddiqui (presently with RLD); and businessman Saeed Shervani [Samajvadi Party] met RSS Supremo Mohan Bhagwat at RSS Delhi headquarters. The meeting was kept secret for reasons known to the participants and was held in August. According to the Muslim intellectuals the meeting held in “a very cordial” atmosphere continued for 75 minutes whereas time allotted was 30 minutes! In a post-meeting justification of the parleys Quraishi stated that their main concern was “the insecurity being increasingly felt by the Muslim community in the wake of recurring incidents of lynching of innocents, calls by Hindutva hotheads for genocide and the marginalisation of the community in almost every sphere”. This delegation consistin

Rajasthan cops 'halt' Gujarat Dalit women's rally: homage to untouchability victim boy

By Our Representative  In a surprise move, the Rajasthan police stopped a Dalit women's rally from Gujarat on the borders after it crossed Gujarat alleging that it would "disturb peace" in village Surana, Jalore district, where the gruesome incident of death of a Dalit boy took place on August 13 after he was brutally beaten up by his teacher on touching the drinking water pot. Sources said, while the Gujarat government had "no objection" in allowing the rally, which originated from the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), an empowerment-cut-technical institute for teens founded by human rights leader Martin Macwan, on September 24 morning, the Rajasthan police stopped it for two and a half hours before allowing it to proceed to Surana. The decision to take out a women's rally was taken at a DSK meeting on September 5 following a condolence meeting of the NGO Navsarjan Trust, also founded by Macwan, activists committed to work against caste-based discrimination, orga

Why Bose's India Gate statue suggests RSS, BJP need violence-loving ‘Hindu’ Netaji

By Prem Singh*  In a TV channel debate, a BJP spokesperson and anchor shared and served a lie that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's daughter in her letter to the Prime Minister has alleged that the Congress kept devaluing Netaji to further Gandhi's non-violence; because Netaji had taken the path of liberating the country through violence mode by forming the Azad Hind Fauj (INA). They also praised the Bombay Royal Naval Mutiny of 1946 to confirm that the country got its independence through a violent route. I stated that I have read the letter of Netaji's daughter, and there is no such allegation in it. But a lie told in the intoxication of power is bound to be blatant. Netaji's daughter Anita Bose Pfaff, even in the past, has already requested some earlier prime ministers of the country to bring back the mortal remains of her father from Japan to India. In none of the letters she has spoken about devaluation of her father’s role in the freedom movement on the basis of Gandh

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Is coal import dependence of more than 50% by 2047 of any relevance to India?

By Shankar Sharma*  I have read the article " Building Resilience in India’s Power Sector " by N Vedachalam, released by the Observer Research Foundation, with a lot of interest. I expected it to provide few useful recommendations to our authorities in charting out a sustainable pathway to green energy transition much before the climate catastrophe push our communities to the precipice. But I am sorry to say that the overall discussions or the message implied in the article disappointed me. I was expecting the article, coming from an engineer with past experience in the power sector, to discuss the much needed recommendations to put the power sector on a sustainable developmental pathway. But I could notice mostly technical jargon and a lot of statistical information, which may already be available in the public domain.   The article also seems to have simply accepted what some of the official agencies seem to have indicated as inevitable for the power sector in our country;

'True decolonisation move': Demand to name new Parliament building after Ambedkar

By Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd*  In recent weeks, there has been a demand for the new Parliament building being constructed on the revamped Central Vista in New Delhi to be named after the architect of the Constitution and anti-caste leader BR Ambedkar. On September 14, the Telangana Assembly passed a resolution urging the Centre to name the new Parliament building after Ambedkar. The Bharatiya Janata Party was absent during the debate about the resolution. The next day, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi-led government declared that the new secretariat in the centre of Hyderabad would be named after Ambedkar. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao added that he would write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to name the new Parliament building in Delhi “Ambedkar Parliament”. The demand is finding resonance among civil society groups too and has led to social media discussions as well as public mobilisation.  But two questions arise: Should a Parliament that makes laws for a nation over a

Government 'fails to take up' Indian migrants' unpaid wages issue with other countries

By Rafeek Ravuther, Chandan Kumar, Dharmendra Kumar*  The migrant workers were one of the most vulnerable sections during the pandemic. India experiences large-scale movement of migrants internally and internationally. After the outbreak of the pandemic, migrant workers continued to face injustice especially in getting wages in expedited manner. In the international context, India, the home of 9 million cross-border temporary labour migrants, carried out the largest repatriation exercise ‘Vande Bharat Mission’. Even though the Indian government addressed the immediate requirement of repatriation, it failed to understand and recognise their post-arrival grievances, like back wages, social protection etc. Recently many workers were deported from the middle- east region. Amidst the establishment of grievance mechanisms such as Consular Services Management System (MADAD) and helplines in Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendra (PBSK), the unresolved grievances remain high. The number of unresolv