Will the States Stand Up to Fight the Pandemic for a Change?

Will the States Stand Up to Fight the Pandemic for a Change?From left to right, Chief Ministers of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Kerala and Odisha. (Illustration: Swarajya Magazine)
Snapshot
  • Every single resource that common people are scampering for today – medicines, oxygen and beds – could have been managed in the states, if they had really got their act together.

India is combating the COVID pandemic’s second wave. However, what is problematic is the behaviour of states in combating, or rather surrendering to, the pandemic phase. Ineptitude seems to be the hallmark of several state governments, ensuring that the proverbial chickens have come home to roost in a rather nasty manner.

When it comes to asking for resources, these state governments pull no stops but when it comes to accountability, they go missing.

States Got Adequate Warning to Prepare, and Yet Were Found Wanting

We all have seen how with much fanfare Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has claimed about a lack of warning from the Central government about the second wave that was going to hit India. After all, as he remarked, the states could have prepared to face the second wave.

Whether being part of the Congress or antipathy to Modi gives a license for economy with the truth is a matter of opinion. What is certain is that the Chhattisgarh CM has failed the people of his state, especially when multiple public reminders were given to prevent the second wave of COVID cases.

On 7 January 2021, the Union Health Secretary had written to Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal, asking them to maintain a ‘strict vigil’ and to take steps to keep a check on the rising cases. The letter’s content, paraphrased by a government press release, had ‘emphasized on this in view of the new strain of the virus being observed in certain countries which has also been reported in a few States in the India’.

For the record, even on 17 March 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had interacted with CMs of states across the country to evaluate the COVID-19 situation. He specifically mentioned that states had to take quick steps to avoid a second wave. Guess who chose to skip this meeting? Bhupesh Baghel.

Can such an approach to the situation be pardoned?

For that matter, it is also reason enough to ask – will the Congress party even bother to read the contents of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s letter to the Prime Minister and follow any of its ‘advice’? Or is it easier to muster advice than courage for bold action?

What Stopped the States from Preparing Infrastructure and Contingency Plans?

State governments were caught napping on various fronts, be it testing, oxygen supply, or even basics like testing.

Preventing black marketing of medicines is a law-and-order subject entirely in the state’s purview. Yet, today, there are reports of massive black marketing and shortages in medicines.

Oxygen shortage was a problem for Maharashtra even during the previous wave of the COVID pandemic. Did the state government choose to learn any lessons from it and take steps towards increasing oxygen supply in the lull phase that had followed? None whatsoever.

Today, the Delhi government has been rapped on the knuckles by the Delhi High Court, in the matter of oxygen supply. When hospitals are choking without oxygen, Delhi government has not even been able to arrange tankers to bring the oxygen allocated to the state!

If that was not bad enough, quarantine scams in Mmubai came to light, where people were allowed to escape quarantine on paying bribes. Profiteering and corruption at a time that it could be least tolerated is being witnessed, and yet the state’s government stumbles on from one self-created crisis to another.

Behavioural Irresponsibility Surrounding Vaccines – A Matter of National Shame

It is a well-known fact that Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Punjab state governments publicly raised doubts on COVAXIN despite peer reviewed, scientific studies and clinical trials producing data that put doubts to rest.

The logic was perhaps the one highlighted by Samajwadi Party leader and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister – we cannot take the vaccine because it is ‘BJP’s vaccine’. Punjab had even gone to the extent of saying that there were sufficient COVISHIELD vaccines available with them.

These states are among those now speaking of vaccine shortages. Thanks to the seeds of doubts sowed by these seemingly responsible people, the vaccination rates in the states like Maharashtra, Delhi and Punjab were lower than the national average.

Positives and negatives of the first wave were labelled the centre’s responsibility. As India faced the unknown last year, it needed a coordinated approach, massive resource allocation at scales only the Centre could manage.

States should have picked up the learnings from the approach and should have been able to manage at least the basics in the anticipated second wave.

Health is a state subject and every single resource that common people are scampering for – medicines, oxygen and beds – could have been managed in the states, if they had really got their act together.

Rohit Pathania works in the space of renewable energy and environment. Other interests include politics and the economy.
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