NEW DELHI: More than 185 intellectuals, including noted historians Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib and economist Kaushik Basu, have written an open letter to the opposition parties suggesting them to use their influence to ensure the central and state governments prepare for a possible third wave of the coronavirus.
Noting that the visuals of deceased lying on roads during the second wave and bodies floating in rivers have pricked the world's collective conscience, they said it was heartwarming that amidst the pandemic, most political parties are "willing to work in a non-partisan manner in the peoples' interest".
"Yet, despite the offer to cooperate and work with the union government, it is shocking that the government of India has neither welcomed the suggestions, nor created a truly national task force comprising all parties, state governments, experts and civil society to tackle the unprecedented situation India is facing," it said.
The letter said millions of Indians are scrambling to access basic healthcare services such as hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen, essential medicines, ambulances, etc.
"The visuals of the deceased lying on roads, floating in rivers and riverbeds has pricked the world's collective conscience," the letter said.
The signatories to the letter include Magsaysay awardee and activist Wilson Bezwada, former Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty, former UGC Chairman Sukhadeo Thorat, former UPSC member Purshottam Aggarwal, and several academicians from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New York University, University of Siena (Italy), University of Sao Paulo, University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton University among others.
"It is very distressing that, despite a history of successful mass-vaccination campaigns in the past 70 years, the government has outsourced the procurement of vaccines to severely stretched state governments, at differential and exorbitant rates.
Likewise, expert advice is repeatedly ignored, while obscurantist, unproven remedies are encouraged.
"Large rallies and religious congregations were organised, and there was no preparation to enhance the availability of oxygen, vaccines, and beds," it said.
The letter suggested the parties to consider a series of measures.
"There is a need to immediately reach out to, and support, the efforts of these citizen and civil society groups.
Since these are already acting as aggregators of requests from citizens in need, progressive parties can support them by securing help for them or connecting them to the right authorities and systems," it said.
Parties must also support and sponsor citizen/civil society initiatives, "which are hamstrung because of restrictive policies regarding fund-raising imposed by the government", it said.
The letter also suggested the parties to use their influence to urge the union and state governments to prepare in advance for the imminent third wave.
"Just to cite one example, children (who may also be impacted by the third wave) will need different oxygen masks, which hospitals don't have in adequate quantities.
Parties can work with citizen groups to map demand, and try to secure their supply," it said.
It urged the parties to leverage their connections to stock on oxygen refills, food etc which might be needed during the third wave.
"Parties must leverage their connections to stock these in advance, and work with citizen groups to disburse them as and when they are needed.
The more we prepare in advance, the more lives we can save," it said.