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Thursday, June 24, 2021

No, Minister: Prakash Javadekar must not absolve Centre, blame states for current Covid crisis

We know it is a war that we need to fight as one nation, one people, and one mission. It is time the Centre also practised what it preaches.

Written by Priyanka Chaturvedi |
Updated: May 12, 2021 8:30:20 am
The Disaster Management Act and Essential Commodities Act, which gave it overriding power over the state governments: Hence, it was the responsibility of the Centre to help state governments.

Last week, a news report stated that I&B minister Prakash Javadekar, along with secretary Amit Khare, have been holding video conferences every day with senior government officials to discuss the negative press against the government and ways to counter it. Also, departments under the I&B ministry are collating negative news reports and opinion pieces, which are being circulated within the government to “nip it in the bud” with a “positive narrative”. I must counter the misrepresentation of facts by the minister (‘Disinformation crisis’, IE, May 10) in his attempt to change the narrative. Just a reminder to him: All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.

The minister says, “Despite public health being a state subject, the central government has been proactive in Covid management as a pandemic requires national-level coordination and substantial resources.” He seems to have forgotten that once the WHO declared a pandemic, the Centre invoked The Epidemic Act, The Disaster Management Act and Essential Commodities Act, which gave it overriding power over the state governments: Hence, it was the responsibility of the Centre to help state governments. If PM Modi was being hailed for defeating Covid-19 in February by BJP leaders, shouldn’t the government then be flailed for not being able to anticipate the second wave? The history of pandemics has shown that the second wave is more disastrous than the first. But when the nation should have been preparing for it, the Centre was busy planning assembly elections.

Was an advisory for a second wave issued to the state governments? Was the Election Commission advised to work around Covid-appropriate norms while declaring elections? The answer to both is no.

West Bengal saw an eight-phase election and with rallies being addressed by the senior-most leaders from the Centre. We saw large religious congregations being given the nod because of the complacency that set in of having defeated Covid.

Javadekar says, “Throughout March, the Centre actively monitored the spread of infections, if these states had taken the Centre’s early warnings and feedback more seriously, the current surge would not have been as fierce.” Some statements for his attention: On March 7, the health minister declared that it was the endgame for Covid in India. On March 30, the minister said “the situation is under control”. These are a few of the umpteen examples of misgovernance and misinformation peddled by the Centre. The parliamentary standing committee on health had warned of oxygen and hospital bed shortages in November but no heed was paid to it. India’s Covid Taskforce did not meet in February or March despite the surge.

Now, to his attack on the Maharashtra state government: “While the Centre was making diligent efforts to control Covid, opposition leaders were continuing with politics as usual. Uddhav Thackeray was focused on brushing under the carpet the most sensational maha-vasooli racket, happening right under his nose.”

The only “vasooli” that is happening is through skyrocketing fuel prices as well as through black marketing and hoarding reported right under the central government’s nose, stemming from its inability to address the shortages people are facing for mere survival. People are paying in blood for the hubris of the Centre. With regards to what the state government has done, Justice DY Chandrachud’s observations in the Supreme Court will suffice: “Mumbai Municipal Corporation has done some remarkable work.” Taking a cue from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s success in tackling the second wave of Covid, Karnataka issued directives to set up Ward Decentralised Triage and Emergency Response (DETER) Committees for Covid management.

However, unlike the Centre, we do understand the state has to prepare for the long haul — it wasn’t our CM who declared premature victory at Davos. The state is now preparing for the third wave because experts, data and history suggest that this is needed. Remember, Maharashtra has widespread testing and is transparent about data. We are also the state which is vaccinating the highest.

A request to all the central ministers: Instead of trying to manipulate the narrative, please concentrate on the urgency of the job at hand and ensure that politics does not overrule the pandemic response. Also, to reassure the minister, overcoming the pandemic and addressing citizens’ needs remains not just our foremost priority but our only priority. We know it is a war that we need to fight as one nation, one people, and one mission. It is time the Centre also practised what it preaches.

This column first appeared in the print edition on May 12, 2021 under the title ‘No, Minister’. The writer is deputy leader, Shiv Sena and a Rajya Sabha MP

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