Pay to CM Relief Fund if you want to get vaccinated in West Bengal!

During the Bengal elections, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee promised a long list of freebies to the citizens. The seasoned politician knew that the civilians of her state will most likely not be able to refuse these freebies. Partially due to the promise of these freebies, Mamata Banerjee got a third term at the Nabanna(the state secretariat in Kolkata) while Bengalis of West Bengal got now feel cheated.

One of these promises was free CoVID vaccines for all citizens. In her election rallies, Mamata Banerjee had committed to provide free CoVID vaccines to the people of the state and criticised the vaccine policy of the central government. Right after returning to power, instead of providing free vaccines by the state, Mamata Banerjee walked back on her commitments and demanded that the centre provided free vaccines to the commoners. However, given that most non-BJP rules states namely Kerala, Maharashtra and even the capital city were struggling to vaccinate its people, the Modi government centralised the CoVID vaccine drive. 

Unfortunately, the TMC failed to contain the spread of the virus during the second wave due to its incompetence. Now the vaccination drive is being exploited to the fullest by the state dispensation to squeeze  money from the poor. On top of this, some people, allegedly closer to power, have set up camps in the heart of the capital city and administered fake vaccines to numerous people including MP Mimi Chakraborty.

The new low is not only private, but also government hospitals are charging people for the CoVID vaccines. While private hospitals are taking a minimum of Rs. 800, news reports from Siliguri-Darjeeling suggest the amount to be close to Rs. 315 in government hospitals. These are the hospitals visited by underprivileged members of the society to get vaccinated. It is being alleged that people are being vaccinated only if they “voluntarily” pay money to the “Chief Minister’s Relief Fund”.

The Chief Minister’s Relief Fund is a fund where people may make donations completely out of their will and no force is exerted. This money is supposed to be used for the welfare of the people, specially in cases of disaster. But the practice of forcing people to contribute to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund to get vaccinated is outrageous, specially considering that the state has not even paid for most of these vaccines. Locals allege that the receipt of money paid to the relief fund is being checked during the time of vaccination and only then they can receive the vaccine. Else, they are being denied the vaccines. 

Secretary of North Bengal Industries Association, Surjit Pal, said, “We have been asked to voluntarily donate to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. I have paid Rs 315 per vaccine for a total of five hundred workers. Only after that, the factory workers in Rajganj were given the vaccines.” He further added that he doesn’t mind paying this money as he understands the financial condition of the state is in shambles. 

General Secretary of the Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators Association, Sandeepan Ghosh informed that officials of the tourism department had connected with them and notified that it is mandatory to pay Rs 315 for the vaccines. This is as per the policy of the government. If the money is not paid, his employees will not be given vaccines. The officials defended their claim by citing that private companies were charging an average of 600 rupees. Sandeepan Ghosh had to pay Rs 69,300 in the relief fund to have all his 220 employees vaccinated in a vaccination camp put up on Siliguri. 

As per reports, correspondence has been shared with all the district magistrates on behalf of the state government giving them directions on how the vaccination will be provided. These letters also mentioned the details of the two bank accounts tied to the money paid by people. The question is why people are being forced to pay for the vaccines when the centre has already declared free vaccination for all. People who choose to get the vaccines from private facilities will be charged but those who are availing government facilities should not be forced to pay.  

The leads us to another question : Is the state government’s earning profit by selling vaccines to private entities?Recently, the state Chief Minister held a meeting to discuss the pandemic situation and immunisation, where she had requested the Chamber of Commerce to buy the vaccine. She also encouraged private hospitals to procure vaccines from the state. The Chamber of Commerce agreed to the recommendation. However, who fixed the prices of these vaccines, what process was followed to come to this price which is being charged in the guise of donation are all unknown till now. 

Previously too, the ruling dispensation has been accused of making profits out of people’s miseries. Is the CoVID vaccination drive another one on the list? 


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