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Fix accountability for Corona Catastrophe

In this political ecosystem where acronyms pass for action, VIP has a new interpretation.

Published: 02nd May 2021 04:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th May 2021 02:04 PM   |  A+A-

A worker carries wood on a hand cart as multiple funeral pyres of COVID-19 victims burn at a crematorium on the outskirts of New Delhi

A worker carries wood on a hand cart as multiple funeral pyres of COVID-19 victims burn at a crematorium on the outskirts of New Delhi. (Photo| AP)

In this political ecosystem where acronyms pass for action, VIP has a new interpretation. Verily Insurmountable Pandemic. Most VIPs who perch on the pinnacle of power in politics and bureaucracy have realised that corona has come home. Many ministers and their kin died. Top arbiters of national destiny fell to the divine arbiter.

VIPs are now facing the unusual experience of not finding ICU beds in spite of pulling levers. Despite warnings by scientists, doctors and pandemic experts, this smugness cost them lives. Death thrust a skeletal finger into the highest political ozone layers with the chilly message - no one is safe from my touch.

The murderous mayhem unleashed by the coronavirus has exposed the hollowness of power. Even after 15 months, none of the geniuses with gargantuan resources are able to outwit the virus. It is haunting all pin codes, vanishing here and appearing there. It spares none; prince or pauper, power player or poor player. COVID-19 has proved to be the great leveler.

The second coming has taken by surprise the establishment, which inoculated itself with vanity and recklessness. India gets around 4,00,000 new cases daily. Over a dozen chief ministers, an almost equal number of Union ministers, Governors, Lt Governors and legislators fell into the virus' lethal embrace.

Several Supreme Court and High Court judges were quarantined or hospitalised. Over 200 IAS, IPS and members of other elite services fell critically ill - Bihar's chief secretary died. Around 1,000 doctors and nurses became martyrs, battling for the lives of others. Sadhus and soothsayers lost their near and dear ones.

There is hardly a famous and influential family that hasn’t been mauled by the virus. True, India is not the only country to have suffered a massive spike in casualties and caseloads. But it is the only nation that believed its initial success was the final victory over the pandemic.

While other countries planned for the future and boosted existing health infrastructure, India went into celebratory mode by conducting elections and religious congregations with utter disregard for corona protocol.

Political leaders engaged with massive audiences without masks, defying the very social distancing norms they are meant to uphold. Instead of leading by example, the exam was leading them—India failed in the test of testing, as governments fudged data, cracked down on dissenting voices and instituted criminal action against the aggrieved.

Law enforcement agencies were lax in enforcing the law. In short, it was pandemic 'pawry' time with TV pundits talking the walk without a clue to the right direction, and only obeying instructions. Predictably, karma does not forgive.

No one is willing to take the responsibility for India’s monumental failure to protect lives. Finger pointing is the only point being made to protect reputations instead of lives. Who will answer these questions?

Who advised the states and the Centre to dismantle the additional Covid facilities created during the first wave? The prime minister announced a draconian lockdown without reasonable notice. In this period, thousands of COVID beds were added to hospitals. Fresh premises like schools, hotels and government buildings were converted into treatment centres.

Special concessions were given to manufacture PPE kits and ventilators. Though the nation was illequipped to handle such a large scale calamity, Indians fought it together and came out stronger. Temporarily though. Why weren't the additional healthcare facilities built during the first crises retained and expanded?

Why could a selected and trusted group of eminent doctors, scientists and babus not assess the shortage of essential medical equipment, medicines, hospital beds and oxygen in spite of warnings by the medical and scientific establishment?

They were sleeping at the wheel. Didn’t they know the geographical difficulties in moving oxygen and medicines from one state to another? Did they study the logistical nightmare it would pose in future? For example, why didn’t they flag that oxygen for Delhi would be sourced from Odisha and not Haryana?

Who is responsible for the shortage of doctors and hospitals? A country of 1.4 billion people has just 550 medical colleges with little less than 1,00,000 MBBS seats. According to a research study, India has around 70,000 private and public hospitals with 1.9 million beds.

But only 95,000 ICU beds and 50,000 ventilators were available. Delhi had only 1,000 ventilators while UP, with an over 20 crore population, had 7,000 ventilators. Who should be held accountable for creating the artificial shortage of life-saving medical equipment?

Who in the government is responsible for ensuring that all hospitals must be equipped to supply uninterrupted oxygen to patients? Why was it not made mandatory for them to install oxygen plants on their premises? Why weren’t oxygen concentrators imported earlier? Why were the sanctioned plants not made operational? Why was no audit done on hospital infrastructure in the past year to minimise the current agony?

Why were governments not advised by their experts to ramp up vaccine capacity in advance? And when they did, why was the advice ignored? India is the world’s oxygen factory. Vaccine billionaires were after money and image, and climbing on the 'maitri' bandwagon for profit, not principle. Hence India hasn’t been able to supply the necessary amounts of vaccines to Indians, although almost every other country had placed huge orders in advance.

But our group of Error Experts failed to assess the national need and time frame for vaccine production and availability of related medicines. Atmanirbhar became ironic when the same India that donated over 100 million doses to other countries was desperately dependent on others for more. Rulers began to place additional orders only after the second wave had devastated millions of more lives.

Why didn’t highly reputed, handsomely profitable enterprises like the Tatas, Mahindras and the Ambanis come forward earlier to supplement the government’s efforts? Why couldn't Mahindras, who boast of making bulletproof vehicles for the netas and others, provide fully equipped ambulances to government hospitals? And why did Adar Poonawalla assume the title of a philanthropist by reducing the price of the Covishield vaccine?

The current crises could have been averted if each member of the sectoral leadership had taken their guardianship seriously. The corporate sector, which could have focused on creating better health infrastructure for its employees, was busy escalating its valuations and junking human values in the shredder of greed.

Hardly any big company gave liberal medical support to its employees. The bureaucracy could not foresee the collapse of India’s weak and inefficient infrastructure. Now they are paying the price collectively.

The rich are getting a taste of how the poor suffer during a calamity - if the poor and underprivileged cannot find an ICU bed; neither can they, despite money and might. Unfortunately, accountability has lost its relevance and reliability.

In the current model of governance, officials in sensitive positions are chosen by the leadership after passing three tests-loyalty, desirability and capability. It seems that after passing the first test, most key advisors in the establishment have failed to perform and betrayed the people who chose them as protectors. Instead of becoming solution leaders, they are just cheerleaders.

Living in the unholy utopia of selfishness and self-gratification, they have realised too late that death has stormed the citadel. They are trapped in the bewilderment of ignorance, apathy and self interest. Sure, some may score brownie points by winning an election or promote the 'positive side' of over two lakh deaths, but the truth is that mortality is the nemesis of hubris. Salvation is not the MasterCard of the privileged. And invincibility is just a myth.

(The writer can be contacted at prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com)



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