he Centre seems to have lost its direction and priorities in battling the COVID-19 pandemic forcing millions to run helplessly from pillar to post to get oxygen, vaccines, immunity boosting drugs and beds in hospitals. In the process, thousands are dying daily and lakhs are in excruciating pain and mental trauma after contracting the virus. The Indian Medical Association has questioned the lack of transparency even in reporting deaths due to the pandemic and sought to shake the government from its ‘slumber’. It is of crucial importance to ascertain the mortality rate with accuracy so as to try and devise a strategy to insulate the population against calamity. The government, however, claims before the Supreme Court its vaccination policy is “just, equitable, non-discriminatory and based upon an intelligible differentiating factor between the two age groups (45 plus and those below)”. The ground reality, however, clearly shows the hollowness of the claim couched in legal language and pompous phraseology.
The insensitivity of the government is further revealed in its resolve to accord priority to the completion of its grandiose and questionable `20,000 crore worth Central Vista project to construct a new parliament complex and Prime Minister’s residence by making it an ‘essential service’. Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has rightly condemned it pointing out that saving the lives of millions of people through free vaccination costs `30,000 crore, a price that is ‘nothing for the Centre’ to pay. In fact, it is a mystery what has prevented the Centre from making vaccination against COVID-19 free when the government had allocated `35,000 crore in the last Budget for tackling the pandemic. The Budgeted amount is enough to produce 200 crore doses of Covid vaccine needed for the whole country.
When the government is making hollow claims on its handling of the public health catastrophe, the IMA’s diagnosis of the situation should act as an eye-opener and propel it to act fast and effectively. There has been colossal failure by the government in ensuring there is no shortage of drugs, vaccinations and manpower.
Since production has not been raised to the desired levels because of the Centre’s failure to foresee the ferocity of the pandemic in its second or third waves, black marketing and hoarding have become rampant. If the Uttarakhand Chief Minister’s decision to allow “holy dip” by over four million people during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar last month has turned the country into hell through super spread of the virus, the revelation of the young son of the BJP MLA of Haridwar getting the jab before the government rolled out vaccination for the age group from 18 to 45 years shows the ruling BJP leadership has no conscience left.
There has been a clamour for price capping and systematic tracking with surveillance for such drugs, but the government seems highly disinterested in such measures nor has it removed the Goods and Services Tax on masks, PPE kits and lifesaving drugs. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman ruled out the waiver and explained in a string of 16 tweets on May 9 that if full exemption from GST were given, the domestic producers of these items would be unable to offset taxes paid on their inputs and input services and would pass these on to the end consumers by increasing their price. Alas, this minister is too experienced to be told that in such a national catastrophe the rules can be easily bent to save the lives of the people and also that GST or import duty could be removed on inputs to enable producers retain today’s cost. It is the government’s job and not the people’s, who voted the BJP to power, to find the ways and means to alleviate their suffering.
It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had assured the country that the vaccination drive for those above 18 years of age would begin from May 1, but the health ministry is yet to make the required roadmap and ensure vaccine stock. In its absence the people of this age group are helplessly waiting for their turn to get vaccinated. There are reports of the vaccination drive being stalled in many places. The government seems to have abdicated its responsibility to the people. In between, the Tika Utsav of two days left the people wondering about their fate.
On the other hand the Delhi High Court on May 10 agreed to hear on May 11 a petition seeking an interim stay on the construction of Central Vista during the peak phase of the pandemic. The court had earlier listed the case for hearing on May 17, but the Supreme Court told the petitioners to request the High Court for an urgent hearing.
The petitioners are concerned over the threat of super spreading of the virus which was posed by the continuing construction at the massive project site and the plight of the workers who are being exposed to the infection daily. They are also questioning why or how the project constitutes an ‘essential service’ merely because some executive mandated contractual deadline has to be met. Clearly, the government, by not immediately stopping the construction, is strengthening the suspicion that it is hell bent on implementing the individual desire of PM Modi to rewrite history his way, even at the cost of thousands of lives of people working at the site.
Uttering a ‘Hey Ram’ might be very appropriate in this situation!