In the last one month, India has seen an unprecedent crisis, which though should have been and could have been foreseen but, unfortunately, was never foreseen or rather, chosen to be ignored by people in position.
On 24.03.2020 (last year), lockdown was imposed in the entire country due to pandemic ‘Covid 19’. The purpose was broadly two-fold : (a) save lives, and; (b) improve medical or health care facilities/infrastructure in the country. Though, it caused immense hardship to the common people but, nonetheless, it was a necessary step. To some extent, lockdown saved the country as proactive steps were taken inter alia to make PPE suits, hand sanitizers, vaccines, etc. Therefore, initially, position of India with regard to containment of spread of virus was far better than any other country in the world. We were able to break the chain and buy valuable time to upgrade infrastructure to meet the pandemic. But, there was a large section especially commercial and industrial who thought that the steps taken were excessive and unwarranted and could be counter-productive. Things rested.
‘Public Heath’ is a ‘State’ subject:
However, after lifting of the lockdown, this proactiveness suddenly lost its way as a consequence of which, today, India is facing a crisis situation as its medical infrastructure has collapsed. Ample time was there for the authorities to examine the situation prevalent in other countries like US, UK, Canada, Germany, etc. and take further precautionary steps in India to curtail the spread of virus in the second wave which was imminent and, also improve health care facilities. But, instead of concentrating on this, citizens were told that the virus is going to stay and people have to learn to live with it. In one interview, which was telecasted, a Minister, with his folded hands, was requesting the citizens not to be afraid or scared of the virus and instead, they should “try to learn to live with it”. On the contrary, the W.H.O. and the doctors have always informed everyone across the globe that this virus is highly infectious, spreads rapidly, and is going to stay. Statistics and medical experts also warned of a second wave, which was regrettably either ignored or not taken seriously.
Despite the fact that ‘public health and sanitization, hospital and dispensaries’ falls under Entry 6 List II (State List) of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India, still, what steps were taken in last one year by the respective State Governments to improve medical infrastructure? Was any new hospital created anywhere? Was the requirement for medical oxygen supply foreseen by anyone? Was the requirement of steroids and necessary drugs to control virus anticipated? Last year, at least, we used to see ‘containment zones’ being created, and sanitization of places being carried out by the authorities. Today, no such thing is being done. The guidelines are all “well documented” but, are of no use as none of it is being implemented at the ground level.
Instead of strictly monitoring and revamping the medical facilities, what we saw was huge gathering of people in farmers protest, kumbh mela, election rallies, mass movement of people around the country, opening of all outdoor entertainment activities, fully operational mass transportation system, etc. where no covid protocol was followed and even the authorities failed to enforce the law, albeit on political compulsion rather the need of the hour. Therefore, everything was made open to the general public as if the virus does not exist anymore and people should start leading a normal life. With such insensitive attitude of the responsible people, the common people were actually made to live with the virus. The ‘irresponsible people’ of the country also cannot be blamed for taking part in such activities when their Government itself is not serious or does not take things seriously.
Failure to exercise sovereign power by the States & directions by Courts:
When, at the first place, the authorities themselves did not find the situation to be so serious, why the sudden panic now? The things which they did not do in the last one year, they want to achieve it in next 15 days and while, they act swiftly, mortality rate will keep on increasing. On one hand, they won’t take any proactive steps to contain the virus and on the other hand, they don’t agree with the views of the Courts also when they issue directions. During the last few days, since the respective Governments failed to fulfill their legal duties/obligations, no option was left, but for the courts including the Supreme Court to step-in. The sovereign powers which could have been exercised by the State to control spread of virus was not done and instead, directions are being passed by the courts with respect to uninterrupted supply of oxygen to hospitals, supply of necessary drugs, etc. Many States were also sanctioned funds by the Central Government to set up new hospitals. Did they utilize the funds to set up hospitals? If not, where did the funds go? There is no accountability and absolutely zero governance. In so many families across India, at least one family member has expired due to lack of heath care facilities – either they did not get admission in hospital, or due to lack of oxygen supply in hospital, or due to non-availability of essential drugs in the market, or due to shortage of beds in hospitals. Even the doctors, who are doing their best, are helpless. Should people who matter be made accountable at some point of time? Their greed for “vote bank politics” and “political compulsion” by way of assumed constitutional obligations are the primary reasons why India is in such a crisis.
One can understand that India is all about power and politics, as we say. But, at the time of a “national emergency”, as the Supreme Court observes, should we lose sight of humanity? Instead of controlling black marketing of drugs, increasing oxygen supply, directing industries to supply medical oxygen, working on logistics to transport oxygen, increasing beds in hospitals, etc. which is the need of hour, the politicians are still engaged in petty politics of “blame-game” or “shifting of responsibility”. One fails to understand that during such crisis also, why elected representatives cannot for once act in the interest of country. In India, we do not have the concept of “recall elections” as is prevalent in many countries, so the elected representatives will hold the post for their entire official term. Then, why such greed for power at the time of a crisis situation? Each and every politician in India has enormous resources and capacity to actually help common people. Irrespective of whatever opinion one has about the respective Governments, they should come forward and offer their help and support.
A speech made 72 years ago is even true today:
However, what we are witnessing today is a harsh reality, which shows that power and politics is above everything. False promises and spreading lies have become a handy toolkit in the hands of few even during crisis situation. This only creates panic and does not resolve any crisis situation. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, on 26.11.1949, when the Constitution was being adopted, in his speech, made the following remark:
“Here I could have ended. But my mind is so full of the future of our country that I feel I ought to take this occasion to give expression to some of my reflections thereon. On 26th January 1950, India will be an independent country (Cheers). What would happen to her independence? Will she maintain her independence or will she lose it again? This is the first thought that comes to my mind. It is not that India was never an independent country. The point is that she once lost the independence she had. Will she lose it a second time? It is this thought which makes me most anxious for the future. What perturbs me greatly is the fact that not only India has once before lost her independence, but she lost it by the infidelity and treachery of some of her own people…
Will history repeat itself? It is this thought which fills me with anxiety. This anxiety is deepened by the realization of the fact that in addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost for ever. This eventuality we must all resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood.”
What was said 72 years ago, is even true today as during pandemic time also, the elected representatives are unable to exercise self-restraint. It’s a shame that the world’s biggest democracy is in the hands of those people (both elected and un-elected representatives) who lack vision; who cannot even foresee a situation, and; who also cannot enforce rule of law, but, can create panic and chaos. It is a matter of fact that due to inaction on the part of the Governments, the active Covid-19 cases in India rose from 95,000 per day to 3.46 lacs per day within a period of just 12 to 14 days leading to total collapse of health care facilities and medical infrastructure. The present situation is such that (i) hospitals are constrained to approach the courts for ensuring supply of oxygen for patients as the Government is not able to help them, when it is their duty/obligation to ensure continuous supply of oxygen, (ii) the Government is not able to stop dacoity/looting of oxygen cylinders from hospitals by local goons, (iii) some of the Governments still do not have any plan how to control the spread of virus in their respective States and are continuously looking for help from Centre, (iv) some Governments, for reasons best known to them, are not utilizing their funds for acquiring oxygen plants or transporting oxygen from different parts of the country to their respective States, (v) no step is being taken to stop black marketing of essentials drugs by notifying strict supply chain, plugging leakages, (vi) to increase processing of samples of covid test, (vii) to help pathology labs to process test results faster due to which sample collection has stopped.
Further, many hospitals in the National Capital have made Covid positive test result mandatory for admission even if the patients have symptoms. Thus, admissions are being refused in the absence of the report. There are absolutely no rules which deny admission to patients with symptoms, regardless of test results. In some cases, though the patient has symptoms, still his test report is negative. What does such a person do? Get more tests done and wait for his situation to worsen?
This being the harsh reality, one seriously hopes that the representatives – both elected and unelected, for once realize that humanity is above power & politics and act in concert by framing a national plan for vaccination, procurement and supply of oxygen, making it mandatory for each registered hospitals to set up permanent oxygen plants in their premises, taking action for black marketing of medicines, directing industries to supply oxygen to various hospitals and as a part of Corporate Social Responsibility, ask the companies to set up oxygen plants, temporary Covid care facilities and hospitals, etc. Lockdown is the need of the hour and should be imposed for some time to break the chain of spreading of virus. People who are not infected, should stay at home, and only movement of people with symptoms and essential services should be allowed. Almost all offices across the country have asked their employees to work from home. But, will history repeat itself so far as fate of migrant labourers are concerned or someone somewhere would care for them. Thus, till the time, health care facilities and medical infrastructure improves in the country, each and every individual should follow all covid protocols strictly.