Exclusive: Centre Stalls 2021-22 Vaccine & Infra Funds to TN
TN Chief Minister MK Stalin has written to the Centre asking for release of interim grant.
What happened to COVID relief measures that the Centre had promised to the states?
In what seems to be a case of Central apathy towards states reeling under the spike in COVID-19 cases, Tamil Nadu has not got the vaccine fund which the Union government had promised in Budget 2021-22. The state has also not received funds to support development of COVID care infrastructure. For some context, the total number of active cases in Tamil Nadu is 2.07 lakh as of 15 May.
Highly placed sources in the Tamil Nadu government told The Quint that Chief Minister M K Stalin has written to the Union government requesting an immediate release of funds.
The Chief Minister has specifically asked for COVID care assistance similar to the package that the Centre had released in the financial year 2020-21, after it imposed a lockdown in March 2020.
State Suffers Without Centre’s Help
Speaking to The Quint on the condition of anonymity, a senior official in charge of Tamil Nadu’s COVID relief team said, “The Centre had allocated Rs 712 crore to TN in the previous year. This year, as they did not allocate COVID fund relief for states in the Union Budget, the Chief Minister wrote to the Centre asking for immediate assistance”. The state is yet to hear back from the Union government, he added.
For the state, however, what’s more troubling is the delay in the vaccine grant. The Union government in its budget had promised a sum of Rs 35,000 crore to be divided among all the states to support the vaccination drive.
The government, however, has not released this grant to Tamil Nadu, a senior official confirmed. “Now the states are asked to procure vaccines on their own. Where is the Central assistance?” he asked. The state had not asked for this amount as the vaccine till now was being centrally purchased.
In May, the Narendra Modi government at the Centre had asked states to procure vaccines directly from manufacturers. Several states including Tamil Nadu have floated global tenders to procure vaccines. “Now the vaccines are going to be differentially priced. So, we need the assistance now,” the officer said.
Are the States on Their Own?
In 2020-21, Tamil Nadu had spent at least Rs 3,000 crore on development of infrastructure including its oxygen capacity. Tamil Nadu also ramped up RT-PCR testing and hospital capacity using the Central grant, another TN officer informed.
“The amount the Centre released the last financial year went into building infrastructure and testing. In the second wave, as we have imposed a lockdown, we expected the Centre to release funds similarly. However, the attitude has been that the Centre will not help during a state-imposed lockdown,” a TN official in the know, said.
Several states including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana. Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, had imposed a lockdown in May as COVID-19 cases started rising since the beginning of April.
Will none of them receive Central grants for COVID care? “What we are being told by the Centre is that they will not release any funds because they did not announce a lockdown,” the officer said.
Table Interim Measures, State to Centre
State authorities say that, the Centre should table interim relief measures soon. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu made the request the previous week, the officer in TN COVID relief team said.
If the Centre releases funds the state will be able to add to its infrastructure and vaccine procurement. “It could have been anticipated that some additional expenditure could be set aside for supporting health measures in the states. We could have added additional beds and oxygen generators with this interim relief,” he said.
In Tamil Nadu, the state has promised free vaccination for all.
Apathy Towards an Opposition Ruled State?
Meanwhile, political leaders in Tamil Nadu accused the Centre for ignoring the state which is now ruled by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). In the 2021 Assembly elections the DMK-Congress alliance had won against the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance. The AIADMK was in power in the state during the last term.
“The Centre released grants the previous year because elections were coming up and the BJP was planning to contest in TN. Their alliance partner was in power in the state. Now that the party is in the Opposition, the Union government does not seem too keen to help us,” a DMK leader told The Quint.
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