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Opposition, Punjab government spar over vaccine sale issue

AAP, SAD stage protests outside Health Minister Sidhu’s house

As controversy surrounds the sale of COVID-19 vaccines by the Congress government in Punjab to private hospitals, Opposition parties are making the most of the issue to corner the government ahead of Assembly polls due early next year.

While the principal Opposition – the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), held a sit-in outside the residence of Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu in Mohali on Sunday, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) members on Monday staged a protest outside his house, demanding his dismissal over the ‘vaccine scam’. He, however, hit back by accusing both parties of involving in theatrics and asking them to stage their protests outside the residence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Former Deputy Chief Minister and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who led the protest, demanded Mr. Sidhu’s dismissal. “If by June 15 he is not dismissed, the SAD would ‘gherao’ the residence of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh,” he said.

“We will continue to strive to ensure justice to people in the ‘vaccine scam’ in which, instead of giving free vaccines to people, the government sold vaccines at a hefty profit to private institutions. This amounts to playing with lives and is reprehensible. If Mr. Sidhu is not dismissed, we will approach the Governor as well as the courts for justice,” Mr. Badal stated.

Facing criticism from several quarters, the government last week decided to withdraw its decision of providing one-time limited vaccine to 18-44 age group people through private hospitals. The Opposition parties, however, are in no mood to relent on the issue and have been targeting the government and Mr. Sidhu.

The SAD and the AAP were fighting a battle for survival and desperately competing to outdo each other. Both have lost their relevance in the State and Mohali in particular, where the SAD drew a complete blank in the recently concluded civic polls, Mr. Sidhu said.

On supply of vaccines to private hospitals, he observed that the decision was taken in good faith to make vaccines available and accessible to all those who needed it and could afford it but did not fulfil the eligibility criteria according to the Government of India norms, particularly thousands of students who needed to go abroad but could not go as they were not vaccinated.

The Akalis and the AAP should spend their time, energies and resources in New Delhi and prevail upon the Government of India not to discriminate against Punjab just because it was a Congress government here. “But I know you cannot do that as Sukhbir and other Akalis are too scared of Modi and AAP and Kejriwal are the ‘B’ team of the BJP”, he said.

Amarinder’s directive to DGP

Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh has directed the Director General of Police to register cases under the Disaster Management Act against Opposition leaders and workers who have been staging ‘dharnas’ over the past few days. He termed such acts irresponsible and in utter violation of the strict curbs in place.

At a time when people could not gather even for weddings and funerals, leaders and workers of these parties were behaving in a reckless manner, showing no concern for the safety and health of Punjabis, said the Chief Minister, adding that such behaviour could not be allowed or tolerated.

AAP members during their protest had also demanded that a criminal case should be registered against Mr. Sidhu.

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