Shri Rajiv Gauba
Dear Shri Gauba,
I write this letter in continuation of my earlier letter dated 30-3-2021 (copy forwarded) addressed to the Union Home Secretary on the potential danger of the huge election rallies being held in Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Kerala, West Bengal and Assam becoming super-spreaders of COVID.
I had earlier requested the Union Home Secretary to invoke the provisions of the National Disaster Management law and Sections 269 & 270 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) [spreading dangerous infections that endanger the people’s lives] to order prosecution of all those who are either directly or indirectly responsible for encouraging such large assemblies of people, which in turn would have already opened floodgates to the spread of COVID. Apparently, the Union Home Ministry, for reasons best known to it, is reluctant to act on my letter!
I have just come across a news report (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/centre-gives-three-reasons-for-indias-covid-surge/printarticle/81901491.cms) on a “high level” meeting taken by the Prime Minister with the State Chief Ministers, in the wake of the spiralling COVID crisis. Those that participated seemed to have come to the conclusion that the crisis had arisen due to (i) severe decline in compliance of Covid-appropriate behaviour, (ii) pandemic fatigue & (iii) lack of effective implementation of Covid compliant measures at the field level. The whole country is aware of this! However, who is responsible for this?
Is there a dichotomy between what the leaders are saying and what they are practising?
At the meeting referred above, the Prime Minister had interacted with the Chief Ministers through the internet mode; rightly so, because so many dignitaries cannot afford to meet in person during these COVD days and get exposed to COVID. Should this logic not apply equally to the large election rallies being held in the five poll-bound States? While it was agreed at the meeting that the primary reason for the present COVID crisis is the COVID-inappropriate behaviour on the part of the people, is it not a fact that each election rally in itself is a COVID super spreader, because those unwary citizens attending it are forced to compromise the social distancing norm and get exposed to COVID? To the best of my knowledge, the Election Commission of India (ECI) is aware of what is happening but has not yet acted against any such rally from the point of view of the Home Ministry’s advisories on COVID norms being complied with.
Had the Union Home Ministry, the Union Ministry of Health and the Election Commission of India (ECI) cared for the value of human life a little more than they seem to do now, they would have insisted upon internet-based election meetings, rather than COVID-inappropriate physical rallies. Incidentally, such virtual meetings would have sharply brought down the large election expenses which have become the major threat to maintaining the integrity of the electoral processes.
Those who wax eloquent on adopting technological upgradation as the means to improve governance do not seem to consider such simple ways to introduce internet communication into election rallies! By resorting to virtual election rallies thus, India would have set an example to the rest of the world as to how we place human welfare above everything else and how we seek to achieve it through technology.
The “second wave” of COVID in India is already assuming dangerous proportions. While vaccination is welcome, it cannot be a panacea as there is no guarantee that the available vaccines will contain all the newly evolving mutants of COVID. Vaccines will not help adequately unless they are fully backed up by enforcement of mask wearing, maintenance of social distancing and the use of sanitisers. No vaccine can help unless large assemblies are avoided and those who lead the people set an example to the others. Otherwise, COVID crisis is likely to overtake us. The available hospital infrastructure has already come under a severe stress and it is most inappropriate for anyone to lower the guard. While elections are a necessity in a democracy, they cannot take precedence over the welfare of the people. To win an election at any cost, including at the cost of human welfare is not what our Constitution envisages.
Coming to the actual figures on COVID, let me cite the example of Tamil Nadu where the BJP/ Congress/ AIDMK/ DMK/ other leaders have been indiscriminately holding huge election rallies in competition with one another. The following tabulated information will show how serious the COVID crisis is turning out to be in the State.
|(11 days)||19,644 (10 days)||118 (10 days)|
|(5 days)||15,713 (5 days)||78 (5 days)|
The above information shows that the number of confirmed COVID cases increased by 19,644 in ten days between 20-3-2021 and 31-3-2021 and by 15,713 in five days alone between 31-3-2021 and 4-4-2021. The corresponding increases in the number of deaths is 118 in ten days (20-3-2021 to 31-3-2021) and 78 in five days (31-3-2021 to 4-4-2021). The numbers are clearly running out of control!
On the other hand, no one in the Home Ministry and the Health Ministry seemed to have apprised either the Prime Minister or the Home Minister of this highly disturbing situation and rendered a professional advice to them not to hold any further rallies. Nor have they cautioned the Election Commission of India (ECI) to impose restrictions! Does it imply a break down of the systems which ought to have worked in cautioning everyone on the worsening crisis and ensured intervention in a timely manner to contain the crisis.
Who is responsible for the 196 deaths that took place in Tamil Nadu during the last fortnight? What is the role played by the Central Ministries? Should not the ECI have intervened in the matter for the sake of avoiding the potential danger to the lives of the people?
It is ironic that those at the helm of affairs should blame the States and the people at large for their failure to adopt “COVID-appropriate” measures but, on their part, throw caution to the wind and do exactly what is not appropriate?
Considering that human lives are at stake, an independent enquiry should be commissioned to affix the responsibility for the costly lapses in this matter. However, since no time can be lost in saving the people’s lives, I would urge upon the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the others to move away from the concept of physical election rallies with immediate effect and shift in favour of virtual meetings.
I would particularly urge upon the ECI to intervene without losing a day and make sure that the ongoing elections do not expose the people of this country to the debilitating COVID crisis.
I request you to place this letter for perusal by the PM. The matter has assumed utmost urgency.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to GOI