For the last three days, NCP leader Sharad Pawar has been camping in Pune, meeting district and health officials, corporators and his own party workers, to discuss ways to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the city which now has the highest number of infected people in the country.
On Saturday, he sat through the weekly review meeting of the district administration, in his capacity as a Rajya Sabha member hailing from the district. He followed it up with a meeting with elected members of the district in Parliament and the state Assembly. Union minister Prakash Javadekar, who is a resident of Pune, was also present at the two meetings.
On Thursday, Pawar had made a surprise visit to Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, his first in 18 years, and reviewed the epidemic situation. The next day, he met officials of Pune Municipal Corporation.
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While cases have been rising across Maharashtra, which accounts for more than one-fifth of all the coronavirus cases in the country, the situation in Pune is being blamed directly on the NCP. The Pawar family home turf, Baramati, is part of Pune district. Besides, Pawar’s nephew and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar directly handles Pune as its guardian minister. Ajit Pawar, a frequent visitor to Pune, has been steering the coronavirus efforts in the district, and was reportedly instrumental in transfers of key health officials.
As on Saturday, Pune had reported more than 1.94 lakh coronavirus cases, 57,000 of them active — both figures putting it ahead of the next two cities in the highest list, Delhi and Mumbai. Mumbai has less than half its active cases, and Delhi about one-third.
Pune authorities are blamed for failing to create adequate health facilities, with instances of coronavirus patients dying because of non-availability of ICU. The senior Pawar’s intervention, in fact, seems to have been triggered by the death of a television journalist last week after he reportedly could not find an ICU on time.
A senior NCP leader said Pawar was not happy with the way things were being handled in the city. “Pune has been a bastion of the NCP, and the BJP has become a big player in the district only in the last few years. Baramati is still represented by Supriya Sule. The coronavirus situation in the city does not give confidence in the NCP’s abilities to handle a crisis like this,” the leader said.
Rajya Sabha MP Vandana Chavan, considered close to Pawar, said the NCP chief had instructed all party workers to pool in efforts and resources to help the district administration. The city unit of the party has been asked to deploy at least six ambulances, and start a helpline to aid patients, including on real-time bed availability, Chavan said.
At the review meeting Saturday, Pawar instructed the district administration to scale up testing facilities, ensure patients got treatment promptly, and rope in retired officials if needed. “Public participation is very important in checking the spread of the infection. Many citizens are seen moving openly without covering their face with a mask… The administration should penalise those not wearing masks when moving in public places,” Pawar told officials.
Alliance partner Shiv Sena has been hinting that Ajit Pawar, and hence the NCP, mishandled the situation in Pune. “Uddhav saheb has maintained from the beginning that more attention needs to be given to Pune. The lockdown was lifted in a hurried manner and the Chief Minister had opposed it. But now Pune is following the Mumbai pattern in tackling the situation,” Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said recently.
Among other things, the Pune authorities are being questioned for not building any makeshift hospitals for Covid-19 patients, unlike Mumbai and Delhi, until the third week of August. That was after Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray pulled up the district officials, on a visit to the city.
With things strained between Pawar and Ajit Pawar, the NCP patriarch’s direct involvement is also being seen as another sign of lack of confidence in his nephew’s abilities.
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