If a country goes to war, decentralisation of the battles is not a prudent policy. No province can have its own army, draw up its own strategy, and wage its own war against a common enemy of the country. After fighting a decentralised vaccination war for five weeks, the Centre rightly took the reins back into its hands.
It was the right thing to do. Given the complexity of vaccine shortages and their procurement, negotiation with foreign manufacturers, who are putting forward their own conditions, it was quite difficult for all the states to pull off the challenge.
The announcement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday evening was appropriate in many ways. It would bring discipline ending the chaos in which the vaccination drive was descending. It would also streamline the process both for the buyer and the sellers and, very importantly, spare a lot of fiscal stress on the states. The states are facing a huge revenue shortfall compared to the increased expenditure that the pandemic has enforced on them. State governments are now urging the Centre for raising the cap on market borrowings so that they can raise more resources to meet the rise in expenditure. In his speech the prime minister also resisted the temptation to score political points.
The Centre’s Monday decision was also important for another reason. It would hopefully help cut the increasing noise in the political theatre around the procurement and administering of vaccines. The prime minister has also tried to address profiteering by capping the cost they are adding to the price of vaccines for the end user.
The key decision taken, the next challenge will be to ramp up the vaccination and ensure proper distribution to the states. The government cannot afford another episode of friction over the vaccination strategy.
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