With every passing day, the corona pandemic is getting bigger and bigger; we have reached the figure of more than one thousand deaths and around 80 thousand reported cases every day. We are into 10 months of the pandemic, yet we seem to know little about the infectivity of the virus. Even highly protected people like Home Minster of the country, CMs of the states, film personalities like Big B; and now members of IPL team, living in a Bio-bubble are getting infected. We are still into partial lockdown.
In the given pandemic situation and with abysmal health service, we are just not equipped as a nation to start train services, open our school and colleges. As per MHA’s own guidelines it so appears any activities which involve participation of large section of people is not advisable to be open.
But Government of India’s central agency seems to think otherwise. National Testing Agency (NTA) dispelling all genuine concerns has bulldozed its way and began conducting JEE (Main) exams form 1st September; by second week of September NEET and JEE exams would be over. This would involve participation of 2.5 million young ones who are appearing for the exams directly and equal number of families, with each family having minimum four members, across the country indirectly.
NTA is not the only agency, the Election Commission of India (ECI) too has announced holding of Bihar Assembly Election in the month of October, which would require participation of 72 million voters directly and the entire population of 124 million people of Bihar.
They (ECI and NTA) seem to bully their way out by issuing ill-advised and flawed SOPs/Guidelines. Before issuing them, they have neither assessed the ground situation holistically nor taken any expert advice; apparently, found panacea in the use of hand sanitizer, face mask and hand gloves.
But, from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Centre for Disease Prevention Control to India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), all the agency holding authority on subject are against the use of gloves in non-medical settings.
As they feel, the wearing of gloves gives very false hope of safety and people may touch their face or places. Moreover, if donning and doffing of gloves is not done very carefully and at the proper place, it may lead to the further spread of the virus.
In addition to this, disposing of such a large quantity of medical waste at such a large number of centers with safety will surely be a huge task. And if it is not disposed off properly, which has a high probability, it will pose a great health risk to others.
So, at the end, it would not only be a waste of money, but this will also aggravate the health risk and leave us to deal with the tons of hazardous waste. Just for JEE (Main) one million masks and gloves would be used. This along with the sanitizer and other safety measures would cost around 130 million of rupees. Looking at the number of aspirants for NEET, the total cost together for both the exam would be more than 250 million Indian rupees.
For Bihar Election, the cost of these safety measures is going to be more than 1250 million Indian rupees; this is just an estimate looking at the cost for JEE (Main) and NEET it may increase further.
If as per the UGC order final year exams are undertaken by each state under similar guidelines and many more exams follow the suit, soon we would be facing the huge cost burden and a problem of waste management. Cities like Delhi are already grappling with it and, the waste is finding its way into the ocean threatening marine life.
Though, everyone is dying for a normal routine, let us not bully that. The risk involved with such an event which demand involvement of large section of population can’t be addressed by just indiscriminate use of face masks, hand gloves and hand sanitizer. We need to have close look at the ground realities, address all the concerns raised by the people and opposition parties.
Anurag Modi is an activist and member of Samajwadi Jan Parishad