Herald View: India must follow Brazil in investigating our botched response to the pandemic
Rebuilding the nation is indeed the first priority but investigating failures of the past one year is also necessary to ensure accountability at different levels so that mistakes are not repeated
T here is a strong case for India to launch a public investigation into the botched response to the pandemic, as is being done by the Senate in Brazil. An investigation got underway this week to investigate the omissions and commissions of the government headed by President Jair Bolsonaro, who had famously undermined the threat posed by the virus, had himself refused to put on mask for a long time and ridiculed public health experts as scaremongers. His government had asked people to stop whining and delayed placing order for vaccines. The Commission, which has 90 days to complete the investigation, has drawn up a list of 18 such acts which include promotion of ineffective cures like the “so-called Covid Kit, a cocktail of unproven drugs such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin”. The Brazilian investigation is also looking at the collapse of the public health system leading to the death of over 400,000 people. Parallels with India, where officially the number of Covid deaths is put at over 200,000 but which experts believe is a gross understatement, are stark and staggering. Beginning with the call to bang pots and pans and lighting lamps to promoting mud-therapy, cow’s urine and untested Ayurvedic concoctions, the Indian government has run around like headless chicken. The Solicitor General of India advised people not to be ‘cry babies’.
The Government has been persistently in denial about oxygen shortages in hospitals and indeed just about everything related to the pandemic. From denying information on the PM CARES fund, which was set up despite the existence of the PM’s National Relief Fund for the past 60 years, to the efficacy of the Arogya Setu App, from the death of migrants walking back home to the number of tests done and the number of deaths due to Covid, the government has been less than transparent. Its failure to order vaccines is yet to be satisfactorily explained. Its vaccine pricing policy remains controversial and nobody seems to know why the same vaccine should have four different prices for the Centre, for states, for the private sector and for export. Even as the government admits it has been caught napping by the second wave of Covid cases, and now believes that a third wave is inevitable, there is no explanation why it has not shared data with scientists.
While an investigation by Parliament is clearly called for, it is also clear that this government will stall such an inquiry. But while facts will eventually become public, the failure of the government to rally the country and experts is also glaring. While India faces an existential crisis, moaning over loss of livelihood, blaming past governments and opposition politicians are hardly helpful. We must feed people in distress, look after them if they fall ill, arrange for transport, medicine and oxygen. We must ensure that our health workers are protected and do not have breakdowns. We must build field hospitals on a war footing and solicit the help of the armed forces and civil society in dealing with the challenges.
Electric crematoriums need to be installed quickly. People need to be vaccinated at their doorstep with vaccines transported in ice cream storage trucks and carts. This is no less than a war and it requires a war effort to get out of the hole we have dug ourselves into. Rebuilding the nation must be the first priority but investigating failures of the past one year is also necessary.