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Across The Aisle: After 7 years, deprivation, disease and death

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Police stand guard during lockdown in Puri as coronavirus cases surge countrywide (PTI image)Police stand guard during lockdown in Puri as coronavirus cases surge countrywide (PTI image)Police stand guard during lockdown in Puri as coronavirus cases surge countrywide (PTI image)

Two years ago, the country voted the BJP to office with a thumping majority — 303 seats for the BJP alone and 353 seats for the NDA. As we enter the third year, it would be appropriate to ask what kind of governance have we got and what are the outcomes.

An overwhelming number of the 26 crore families want, foremost, food on their plates every day. That leads to other needs like security, jobs, living wages/income, homes, healthcare, education for their children and other things.

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Malnutrition Worsens

India is a large producer of cereals (the staple food), pulses, millets, milk, vegetables and fruit apart from meat and fish. The goal is that everyone should have enough food on his/her plate and, if we are progressing, things should get better every year. If children do not get adequate food, they will be victims of anaemia, stunting and wasting. The last complete data is NFHS-4 (2015-16). According to NFHS-4, 58.6 per cent of children were anaemic, 38.4 per cent were stunted and 21 per cent were wasted, a marked improvement over NFHS-3 done 10 years earlier. NFHS-5 was started in 2019-20 but could not be completed because of the pandemic. However, data for 22 states that have been released shows that out of the 22 states anaemia had increased in 18 states, stunting had increased in 13 states and wasting had increased in 12 states.

The conclusion is painful: despite mountains of food grain and other food, our children do not get enough food, the poor getting the least quantities. All other things flow logically. Let me indicate some metrics of today. Since the beginning of NDA-2, GDP, GDP growth rate and per capita income have declined; the labour participation rate has declined while the unemployment rate has increased; WPI inflation and food inflation are on the rise; and gender inequality has widened.

Made Worse by Incompetence

The pandemic has made the situation worse. At the risk of repetition, let me state that the economic slide preceded the detection of the first case of Covid-19 on January 30, 2020. The economic slide and recession were man-made. The pandemic was a natural disaster made worse by man. In both cases, men and women in power were responsible, not the people who voted them to power.

As we begin 2021-22, it is apparent that the economy will suffer another horrendous year. Jobs will be lost, more women will lose jobs than men, and the irregular/casual workers will suffer more than the regular workers; wages and incomes will be hit; thousands of MSMEs will be closed down or scaled down; there will be more reverse migration; and more people will be pushed into poverty and debt. Everyone will be worse off than what he/she was at the same time in 2019-20 or even 2020-21.

A lockdown — God forbid — seems inevitable. I wonder why after “we won the war against Covid in 2020” (so claimed the Prime Minister on April 17), a lockdown has become inevitable. This time, however, the buck has been passed to the state chief ministers who, having no other option, will close down step by step until all activity is shut down one day. Meanwhile, lakhs of people will be infected and hundreds will die without access to vaccines, oxygen cylinders, ventilators, ICU beds and anti-viral medicines.

Bluff, Bluster & Trolls

So far, the economic crisis and the pandemic have been tackled by the government with bluff, bluster, abuse and an army of paid trolls. Can you imagine

  • a prime minister taking off every other day to address election rallies and not available to take desperate calls of chief ministers;
  • a health minister repeating ad nauseam that there is no shortage of vaccines or oxygen cylinders or remdesivir or hospital beds, and then vanishing from public sight;
  • a minister mocking the suggestion that foreign-made approved vaccines should be allowed to be imported (“he is lobbying for foreign pharmaceutical companies”) and not tendering an apology for the crude remark when the government decided to do exactly that;
  • a finance minister observing silence on the demand for Rs 3,000 crore by the Serum Institute of India for capital investment to ramp up manufacturing capacity of its vaccine, Covishield;
  • a government not invoking the provision of compulsory licensing to allow the manufacture of Covishield and Covaxin in multiple facilities in a country that boasts of the largest vaccine manufacturing capacity in the world;
  • state governments faking the infection and death toll in the face of the hard truth of ambulances with patients lined up outside hospitals and mortuary vans with bodies lined up outside crematoriums (e.g. Gujarat, Delhi);
  • · the government allowing vaccine manufacturers to fix multiple prices and leaving the 18-44 age group out of the public-funded programme; andruling party MPs continuing to be mute spectators and afraid to speak when a catastrophe is descending on the country.

Governance — forecasting, scenario-building, planning, activity-mapping, resource allocation, provisioning, coordinating and implementing — has gone back to the primitive days of the chalk and blackboard, typewriter and ITI-made black telephones. The quality of governance has sunk to an abysmal low. The result is what we see around us — deprivation, debt, disease and death. Did the people who voted the government to power in 2019 deserve this? I would say NO.

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