Edit & Opinion

India Choked: It’s Only Life, Stupid!

“What’s the use of a hospital bed now? He is already dead. All are dead. The Administration is hopeless, useless,” angry shouts of parents and relatives which pierce the country’s comatose dark skies. Over 140 choked to death due to lack of oxygen in various Delhi, UP and Haryana hospitals as they ‘begged” the Administration and corporates to expedite replenishments of the elixir of life even as crematoriums ran out of space. Bringing India once again face to face with the bitter truth: The aam aadmi translates into merely a sterile statistic!

 

With 3,52,991 people testing positive for Covid 19 Monday India’s total tally has climbed to 1,73,13,163 with a record 2,812 new fatalities. While active cases crossed the 28-lakh mark (16.25%), death toll increased to 1,95,123 (1.3%) with the recovery rate dropping to 82.62 %. Worse, active infections might touch 38-48 lakhs mid-May warn scientists as the coming four weeks are critical.

 

Kudos to the Madras High Court which came down hard on the Election Commission calling it the “the most irresponsible institution” for its role in the resurgence of the virus’s second wave pan India. Adding stingingly, EC officials might be “booked under murder charges too” for allowing Parties to hold mammoth rallies and processions. It was hearing a PIL to ensure fair counting of votes in Karur.  The Court threatened to stop vote counting 2 May if a “blueprint” of effective steps with Covid-19 protocols was not in place properly.

 

Questionably, are elections the be all and end all for our leaders? Is human life of no importance   to them? Couldn’t the EC have curtailed the political dose, mammoth rallies, processions and holding of road-shows in five States to 500-odd with strict enforcement of pandemic norms or netas told to have smaller ‘virtual’ rallies or clubbing these together as was done in the last two phases of the West Bengal polls?

 

Undoubtedly, the onus is on the EC. It was its paramount duty to carefully plan the poll phases, ensure that authorities maintained strict discipline, remained focused on controlling the contagion spread by insisting on physical distancing and wearing masks besides their usual duties of maintaining law and order. The en masse abdication of Covid protocol by both leaders and janata is borne out by TV and social media footages, an automatic recipe for disaster.

 

Given that these States showed five-times faster spike of Covid 19 cases than Delhi and nearly 10-times faster than Maharashtra. For instance Bengal had 8,419 or 1,040% higher cases on 18 April 18 than 1174 on 1 April, while Delhi and Maharashtra which are notorious hotspots showed a much slower pace of increase  209% and 118% respectively.

 

Adding grist the Kumb mela was  attended by over 30 lakh people and within a week it sent the number of cases in Rishikesh and Haridwar soaring. It was after the death of two renowned seers of major sects that Modi appealed to make attendance “symbolic”. A belated confession, of knowing large and congested gatherings, even if held in the open, lead to a titanic rise.

 

More horrifying is how our netagan continue to glibly bandy remorse, India is “shaken” by the contagion tsunami said Prime Minister Modi with Union Ministers, Chief Ministers reeling out figures of ‘action taken.’ Really? You could have fooled me. While the Opposition parrots its tirade of ‘Government plagued by anti-people policies and is trying to save image.’ All, getting their knickers in knots.

 

Importantly, given our leaders penchant for short-cuts and quick-fix solutions, what else can one expect, but this ghisa-pitta reaction? They are no wiser nor have learnt any lesson from the first wave. Instead of being prepared for the second, all were triumphantly asserting they had ‘defeated’ the pandemic and Modi was a “vaccine guru”.

 

Worse, none seems to have learnt or is willing to learn the ABC of health and crisis management or finding lasting solutions. In four States, Delhi, Maharashtra, UP and Chhattisgarh alone there is a acute shortage of nearly 50,000 isolation beds with oxygen, over 10,000 ICU beds and 6000 ventilators and counting. Karnataka .  Critical medicines are selling at astronomical prices.

 

Who will bear responsibility? Be accountable? Does anyone really care?  A big No.

 

Two cases in point. Take Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal. On 5 January the Centre gave AAP Government Rs 201.58 crores for installation of 8 dedicated Pressure Swing Absorption (PSU) Medical Oxygen Generation Plants inside public health facilities. Abominably, on 23 April, Delhi had installed only one oxygen plant sanctioned under the PM Cares Fund. Besides, wouldn’t the Rs 171 crores Kejriwal spent on advertising his Sarkar’s achievements been better utilized on people’s welfare.

 

Further, in beginning April Kejriwal tweeted that Delhi had adequate oxygen, medicines and there was no shortage. Only, to tweet the obverse a fortnight later, blaming the Centre despite being allotted over 480 tonnes of oxygen. Only to be reprimanded by the Court, “you expect everything should land at your doorsteps….you have to contact suppliers.”

 

Two, on 1 April last year a Central Empowered Group of Officers set-up for effective Covid  response red-flagged oxygen shortage when there were only 2000 cases and asked the CII with Indian Gas Association to mitigate supplies soonest. A week later the Directorate General of Health Services wrote to all State and UT drug controllers to grant licenses to manufacturers of industrial oxygen to produce medical oxygen at the earliest.

 

Again in October Parliament’s Standing Committee on Health asked the Government to ensure adequate oxygen production for hospitals as well as its availability and affordability. Of the 7000 metric tons produced as only 1000 metric tons was being used for medical purposes, the Committee wanted a strong oxygen inventory in place. Alas, all these were trashed as it was only last week the Centre prohibited supply of oxygen to industries.

 

Furthermore, the vaccination drive commenced too late in January third week with no outcome goal of vaccination defined. So far only 0.7% have received both doses and only about 5% one dose, too low to have an impact. Neither was any advance purchase orders given to vaccine companies to get production accelerated. Add to it “poor communication” to those vaccinated on how they must continue with precautions like masks and social distancing.

 

Undeniably, given the tremendous nationwide shortage of hospital beds, oxygen, vaccines and drugs, the onus lies on the Government. True, people lowered their guard and didn’t follow Covid protocols, yet why did the Centre and States open up everything including schools and colleges without vaccinating people despite warning from scientists and virologists? Specially as Europe was witnessing an acute second wave.

 

Ministerial and bureaucratic huddles and directives from the Centre to States will not do. People are sick of hearing the same old refrain: “The speed of spread in the second wave is twice as fast as in the first wave. Don’t panic…The Government is doing everything that is necessary…things are under control….we have enough oxygen. Transportation is a challenge.” Sic.

Remember, all crises are surmountable. What is insurmountable is damned negligence and casualness. That is the tragedy of our nation. The time is for gone for the Government to play the pied piper with a ki pharak painda hai attitude. Will the future generation be weighed down by our moribund, careless and politricking leaders’ albatross round its neck? Who aver: Let them choke, its only life, stupid!

 

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By Poonam I Kaushish | INFA

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