Health Ministry and Home Ministry Failed The Masses
Early on in the epidemic the Prime Minister of India exhorted the corporate media to inform the masses that countries in Europe; the USA; and a few others were facing the brunt of the Pandemic. Hardly a few hundred Indians were infected with the virus then. Not so any longer. The powers that be would have to eat crow. The reasons for failure both of the Union Health Ministry and Union Home Ministry are glaring and accountability has to be fixed.
- Delay in initiating Lockdown-I. It should have been started when Doubling Rate had first reached 2 – as was done in China. In other words on 21 March. Delay of every day – nay hour till 25 March – provided a free run to the virus. The Chinese template of management was before the Indian health authorities; it only needed to be followed. But it was not. China had imposed lockdown when doubling rate was 2.
- Blaming the Tablighi Jamaat congregation for the spread of the virus resulted in energies of health officials, administration, police, courts, jails, media diverted away from the scientific management of the epidemic. If you criminalize an entire community how are you going to enlist their support in the long term?
- During Phases II, III & IV of the lockdown some concessions were given even before the peak of daily increase of cases got reached. India is the only country to have adopted such a strategy. It is a compromise between no lockdown and wrong lockdown.
- During lockdown aggressive testing was missing; so asymptomatic cases (super-spreaders) remained undetected and helped increase the daily number of cases once concessions were serially announced.
- Around 9.1 million migrant workers from different parts of the country were left high and dry as they were stranded and no arrangements were provided for their transportation to their respective home states. The over-crowding resulted in social distancing norms being not followed. The lives of these workers were put at risk. Rather than seeing them as victims, the corporate media (as also the police, administration and even courts) projected them as responsible for spread of virus from urban to rural areas! The Supreme Court deserted them during their hour of greatest need.
One recalls that in the mid-1990s when Supreme Court had ordered closure of ‘polluting industries’ in Delhi, a million workers were rendered jobless and homeless; majority of them being casual workers, received no compensation. Ironically Justice Kuldeep Singh, who heard M.C. Mehta’s PIL, had not even cared to hear the workers’ point of view before passing the final judgement. So the Supreme Court has a track record of deserting workers.
- With an abundance of slum-areas in metropolis, towns and cities, it was a cruel joke to ask the slum-dwellers to maintain social distancing norms in a slum-tenement of 10 feet by 6 feet housing four to six family members. A slum area, Dharavi in Mumbai has reportedly seen large number of its working class people getting infected by the virus, and many have died.
- Since drinking water (potable, piped water) itself is not available to a large section of the toiling masses, how does the administration expect them to wash hands repeatedly with soap and water? This further exposes them to the infection.
- The millions of migrant workers and much more number of urban slum dwellers were exposed to the infection courtesy the policies and practices of the successive state/central governments with an eye on elections. The Union Home Ministry failed to visualize the exodus of migrant workers – from urban to rural areas – consequent upon ordering the Lockdown-I on 25 March, 2020. Their continued gathering on roads, under fly-overs, along river-banks, and railway-tracks or wherever open space was available exposed them to the n-coronavirus infection. In terms of magnitude this state-engineered mass assembly of people had a number of 9.1 million against a few thousand in the case of Tablighi Jamaat congregation! The difference was that in this case the people were not from one religious community but belonged to the working class. In this backdrop to criminalize members of one religious community and relentlessly pursue court cases under stringent laws appears to be a vengeful act borne out of communal rhetoric and politics.
Justice would be seen to be done to the millions of migrant workers as also the slum-dwellers – who were exposed to the virus and then dubbed as spreaders of the disease – only if those at the helm of affairs are held accountable for this mass crime against humanity. Himalayan blunders have been made in the management of the epidemic and lockdown in India. As a first step the politicians and bureaucrats in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs; as also Health and Family Welfare; and top-most doctors in the Indian Council of Medical Research as well as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi should be asked to submit their resignations. That would pave the way for a successful fight against the n-coronavirus; and rehabilitation of migrant workers. This would be the first step in reviving the economy.
Dr. P. S. Sahni is an independent medico-legal researcher and member of ABVA. Email: [email protected]