Updated: April 29, 2021 9:07:07 am
The Allahabad High Court’s reprimand that the Uttar Pradesh government must discard its “my way or no way” attitude while dealing with the mounting distress caused by the pandemic’s second surge is a necessary reminder of what governance must be in a crisis. For over two weeks now, UP has contributed the second-highest daily cases of coronavirus infections to India’s galloping toll, second only to Maharashtra. For the state, as for the nation, an enormous challenge lies ahead.
As it is elsewhere, the health infrastructure in Lucknow, Allahabad, Varanasi and Kanpur is under severe strain. A report in this paper has recorded the chaos around oxygen supply stations in Kanpur, and the frantic search for hospital beds. And yet, the Uttar Pradesh government insists there is no shortage of beds, oxygen or life-saving drugs in the state. It has also threatened action against private hospitals that “falsely” complain of oxygen shortage. Whether it is protests or pandemic distress, the UP government’s reflex reaction, unfortunately, is the heavy hand, the “tough” crackdown. But when all is not well, the state must, the court has advised, “welcome suggestions from all” instead of taking harder positions. In daily governance, and especially in a pandemic, the complaints, criticism, anguish and anger of the people are valuable feedback that can help the state to urgently plug the holes, fix accountability. To waste precious administrative energy on penal action against hospitals, the state’s ally in this battle to save lives, is a grave error.
Indeed, the ability to face up to dire news — and then, to take corrective action — is essential to defusing a crisis. The Allahabad High Court has said it “would not tolerate any paperwork or public announcements to show account of the steps taken … as it is now an open secret” that the government had dropped the ball in its Covid preparedness. The court has stepped in to oversee the pandemic response, from death counts to denial of admission to patients on the basis of a negative antigen report. The court also issued a notice to the Election Commission on the reported deaths due to COVID-19 of 135 people on election duty for the recent panchayat polls in the state. “The ghost of Corona is marching on the roads and streets of the major cities of the state,” the court said, and warned that only the privileged will have the resources to survive, in the absence of government action. The UP government must recognise that while strongman politics is good for headlines, it will need humanity and humility to bend the second wave.
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