Updated: December 3, 2021 8:12:36 am
Opposition parties on Thursday sought to corner the government over its handling of the second wave of the pandemic earlier this year, slow pace of vaccination and poor genome sequencing of the virus during a debate on Covid-19 in Lok Sabha.
Quite a few MPs also raised the issue of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s picture on vaccine certificates, arguing that all states had equally contributed in fighting the pandemic and in vaccination, and asked what was the government’s plan on providing booster doses in the wake of the Omicron variant of the virus.
Congress leader in the House Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary said that less than 30% of the country’s population had been fully vaccinated and asked what the government was doing to fully vaccinate all adults in the face of the new Omicron variant of the virus.
“You got to know [about Omicron] on November 26. But you started screening at airports from December 1. Last time also we got to know about Wuhan much before, but we acted late. According to Johns Hopkins vaccine tracker, only 27.30 % of India’s population is fully vaccinated. China has fully vaccinated 76% of its population. What steps are you taking to fully vaccinate all adults? You said you will vaccinate all by the end of December 2021,” Chaudhary said, adding that had the government acted in time before the second wave, so many lives would not have been lost.
He also mocked some members of the government and the ruling party over their supposed non-scientific response to the spread of the virus. “(Piyush) Goyal said consume less oxygen, Rajnath Singh says read Ramcharit Manas, BJP leaders say drink cow urine and Ramdev says take Coronil. And Harshwardhan ji and Gadkari ji sit with him to advertise. This is our state. In view of that, please tell us the roadmap [to deal with Omicron],” Chaudhary said.
Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy blamed the Prime Minister. “The pandemic had started [before the first wave hit India] and I went to the PM and told him why don’t you adjourn the House. He said people just want vacation and that is why they are asking for the House to be adjourned. Five days later, the PM said bang utensils… Then in January 2021, he said we have been victorious against Covid. Then second wave came. Had the PM not been complacent, this would not have happened.”
BSP MP Ritesh Pandey said India sends the least number of samples for genome sequencing, which was a matter of concern in the wake of Omicron variant. “We send the least number of samples for genome sequencing. PMO said (earlier) genome sequencing was not needed as the virus is genetically stable. As much as 12 crore vaccines are going to expire. Our vaccine management has failed,” he said.
AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi asked the government what it was doing for genome sequencing and to protect children. “Had the government stayed awake, the second wave would not have come. CoWIN portal says only 33% people are fully vaccinated. What have you done to save children. They are not vaccinated. It is seven months since health workers were vaccinated. When will they get booster shots,” he said. “You gave 25% vaccines to private hospitals and they vaccinated only 9%. Had Supreme Court not intervened, you would have given 50%. You ordered vaccines in 2021. You are responsible for lakhs of people dying in India.”
RSP member N K Premchandran said, “Second wave hit India like Tsunami. Who is responsible? On April 1, non-availability of oxygen was flagged. Nothing was done to ensure the availability of oxygen. So many people died. Even in November 2020, parliamentary committee cautioned the government about this. There was no proper planning for vaccination.”
Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi said the ruling BJP has forgotten the devastation caused by the second wave of the pandemic. “The PM asked the nation to remain vigilant regarding Covid-19. Other MPs of the BJP also need to ask citizens to remain vigilant and follow Covid-19 preventive measures. Earlier this year, on several forums the government declared victory over Covid-19 and it was months before the Covid-19 second wave, which caused large numbers of deaths and forced us to ask foreign nations for ventilators and equipment for oxygen generation,” he said.
Enquiring about the status of the Covid vaccine’s second dose drive, he said, “Citing Assam’s vaccination data, I can say that vaccination records rose leading to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday and it fell days after that and it was also low days before the event.”
Gogoi also accused the government of ignoring warning signs, leading to an acute shortage of beds, oxygen cylinders and ventilators during the second wave.
Initiating the debate earlier in the day, Shiv Sena’s Vinayak Raut appreciated Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the chief ministers for working together to fight the pandemic. However, he accused the government of disproportionate distribution of vaccine doses.
He asked the government to consider passing a legislation with stringent measures against those who tried to exploit the pandemic situation. “Some private hospitals have exploited the situation – they tried to cash in on the helplessness of the people. There has to be a law with stringent punitive measures to punish such people,” Raut said.
Maintaining that he did not want to blame the Prime Minister or the central government, he said contractors who had been given the responsibility of distributing ventilators with the PM-CARES fund did not do a good job. “More than 60 per cent of the ventilators that came to Maharashtra are still lying unused. The contractors provided faulty ventilators,” he said, adding that there were irregularities in construction of oxygen plants at government hospitals too.
Raut also demanded coordination among states, as well as with the Centre, over the new Omicron variant of the virus. “There needs to be clarity in the Centre’s directives on Omicron… the Prime Minister’s responsibility is for the entire 130 crore population. It should not be so that you look at Maharashtra with a sly glance, help Gujarat in good measure and make maximum allocations to Uttar Pradesh because it is going to polls. Allocations should be made on the basis of the population,” he said.
BJP’s Rattan Lal Kataria said the Opposition should not politicise the issue. “The Opposition has a role in democracy and they should play that role, but should not to politicise things when it comes to serving humanity. They should encourage people engaged in the fight against the pandemic,” he said.
Kataria said there is a need to be more cautious in light of the new variant of the virus. “It is not the time to sit comfortably, we have to be vigilant,” he said.
Responding to the allegation that the Centre favoured BJP- ruled states in supplying vaccines, Kataria said several Opposition-ruled states approached other nations for vaccines and added they were told that vaccine makers would only deal with the central government.
DMK’s D N V Senthilkumar S said the government’s response to the pandemic was not proactive. He said the Standing Committee on Health had warned the government about the threat of second wave and shortage of oxygen, ventilators and other medical equipment but the government ignored those suggestions. He slammed the government for imposing a national lockdown with just four-hour notice. “We saw migrant workers walking hundreds of kilometres without any help from the government,” he said.
CPM’s A M Arif said people had paid the price of government’s overconfidence. “A lockdown was imposed without consultation on preparations. We were forced by government to see hundreds of bodies floating in the Ganges. While the government refused to give liquid cash in hands, petroleum product prices went sky high. PM-CARES fund operates in the most opaque manner.”
YSRCP’s Sri Krishna Devarayalu Lavu said the second wave came because the pillars of democracy did not work. “Judiciary never bothered about migrants. They said we cannot act based on media reports. Media did not focus on the pandemic until the crisis reached Delhi. Election commission allowed elections in West Bengal, UP and Andhra Pradesh despite the pandemic leading to thousands of lives being lost. Then IPL was happening in the country. It was like watching the band playing on titanic. This was all because of overconfidence,” he said adding that the government must review availability of beds, oxygen and conduct testing not just at airports but also in districts.
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