India’s sorry Covid saga

Even if one believes the government claims of the present Covid figures being low, it is not something that anyone sane can trumpet around. Having a 7.1 million infected population when it could have substantially avoided if you had done your job is not an achievement; it is a national shame.

– Oliver D’Souza

What is India’s true Covid tally? As of today the government claims  the country had 7.15 million cases, over 100,000 deaths. The problem is nobody believes the government’s data because the ground realities are otherwise.

A Karnataka state government health worker told this website that in the state there has been a massive explosion of cases, that a majority of non-accident deaths being reported in the state are Covid related but the victims are not being tested upon their death.

At the same time, all appearances suggest the government claims of the figures cannot be taken at face value. In one Karnataka district, 36,145 people have been kept in quarantine for 28 days, yet the district claims only 8376 positives. The question is if these 36,145 people were not infected why were they quarantined for close to a month? If this obfuscation of data is taken into account, the interpretation is that the state has 4 times more infection rates while it is anybody’s guess as to how many have actually died of Covid.

Karnataka, as far as Covid is concerned, has been among the better managed states but even this BJP-ruled state’s performance has not been good enough resulting in the sacking of the state’s Health Minister.

If a better ruled state like Karnataka is reflecting such a pathetic state in Covid affairs, one can only postulate the ground realities in the backward states – the Hindi belt.

The Union government may try very hard to paint a rosy picture of things by comparing India’s Covid statistics to that of countries like US.  The fact is there is no comparison between the two because in the US there is very little scope for fudging or obfuscating data. The legal and human rights framework in the country ensures that no such criminal activity that costs people lives is allowed to happen, as is happening in India, with the Indian media playing the central role of disseminating lies.

Testing in the country still continues to be among the lowest in the world despite the massive onslaught of the virus. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), a total 8,57,98,698 samples were tested up to October 9. That is, India as of today is testing approximately 63,501 people per million whereas in the US over 357,743 tests are being tested per million. The government has insidiously failed to factor in the testing per million between the two countries while making the insidious claim.

If we were testing 6 times more – the US levels – , would our figures still remain at 7.15 million or would it be 6 times that, which is about 42+ million? Much about the truth about Covid in India lies buried under the government’s strategy of denying its scope and extent.

Meanwhile, there is no succor for the Indian population presently suffering the onslaught of the virus. Responding to growing anger over the high cost of Covid treatment, most states have capped Covid treatment charges in private hospitals. Yet, according to a Times Of India report, more than 80% of families would be financially crippled even if one member undergoes Covid treatment. That’s because even at the capped rates, cost for a week of treatment amounts to many times their monthly expenditure.

The manner in which victims are being fleeced does not spare even the powerful and mighty. The Belagavi Superintendent of Police was found to be positive. Along with him four others were quarantined. As told to this website by police sources, all that was done during their hospital quarantine was taking of temperature and other normal nursing parameters. Yet each one of them received a bill of Rs 1.2 Lakh.

Immaterial of who paid the bill, if a superintendent of police can suffer such fleecing, one can only concur the plight of the masses, especially poor masses.

The Covid pandemic has hit the hospital industry enormously. Most of their income comes from OPD patients, but following the pandemic there has been a massive drop in OPD cases. The hospitals are now using Covid to cover their losses. Even after equitably considering the additional costs for hospitals in handling Covid, it is estimated that they are charging at least 4times the actual costs.

The same Times of India report also says “according to the latest household expenditure report of 2017-18 put out by the National Statistical Office, in Delhi, which has among the highest monthly per capita expenditures in the country, for 80% of the population monthly spend per person is below Rs 5,000 or Rs 25,000 for a family of five. The lowest priced isolation bed in a non-accredited hospital in the Capital would cost Rs 80,000 for ten days of treatment, more than three times the monthly spending of 80% of the population. For a patient with severe Covid in ICU care with ventilator support, the bill could be several lakh as the treatment could stretch for two to three weeks or more.”

In short Covid is a financial disaster for those among the middle and lower classes who are infected by it.

That is only part of the population’s misery. Since the start of Covid, there have also been over 1.5 crore job losses to-date. This is in addition to the already existing massive unemployment and devastation of the economy by the government’s mis-governance and incompetent management of the economy. Under this government, a thriving economy came down from 8.3% GDP to 3.1% GDP before the pandemic struck.

More importantly, it is a telling sign of the government’s economic governance ethos that the richest man in India became several times richer during the 6 years of BJP rule while over 250 million Indians who were delivered from poverty into lower middle-class economic status are now heading back into poverty.

Further, according to the World  Bank report “Beaten or Broken? Informality and COVID-19 in South Asia”, the extended closure of schools due in India to the COVID-19 pandemic could cause a loss of over $400 billion to the nation in future earnings, in addition to enormous learning losses.

The World Bank has also said the Indian economy was projected to shrink by 9.6% in fiscal 2020-21 because of Covid-19 pandemic, and that it was in a far graver situation than during the balance of payment crisis of the 1980s leading up to 1991.

AFP reports Hans Timmer, Chief Economist (South Asia) saying “The situation is much worse in India than we have ever seen before”. He also said it was “much worse” than the balance of payment crisis, which was a record low for India. This forced India to pledge parts of its gold reserves in 1991 to get a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“Overall, the pandemic has likely raised urban poverty, creating a set of ‘new poor’ characterized by non-farm employment and secondary or tertiary education.”

“While the poor suffered due to rising food prices, Covid-19 delivered “a further blow to many informal workers” who experienced a sharp drop in earnings and didn’t have social insurance or savings to fall back on, the report said, urging governments in the South Asia region to “design universal social protection as well as policies that support greater productivity, skills development, and human capital”, he said.

Various expert bodies have put varying figures regarding the contraction of the Indian economy. Goldman Sachs puts it at -14.8%, Fitch at -10.5% and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) puts it at -9%.

The troubles being faced by the population are not limited to those directly caused by the virus but also the use of the pandemic by the government to indulge in all kinds of illegal activities. This includes bulldozing controversial bills through parliament, such as the farmer’s bill, which has created more problems than it sought to solve.

At the same time the government has used the pandemic and the consonant restrictions to target those who are opposed to its mismanagement and criminal activities. Those being target include students, journalists, human rights activists and ideologues.

In the most recent case Fr Stan Swamy, a revered 83-year-old Jesuit priest has been arrested using the ElgarParishad case as an excuse, in which the culprits have been set free while all those opposed to the government’s casteist ethos have been jailed using the incident as a excuse, cooking up false evidence and applying UAPA against them to keep them in jail for an extended period without bail.  

What is Fr Stan’s true crime? For close to 50 years, he has been working among the tribals for their emancipation from the exploitation by the very same forces that form the core of the Union government. Clearly, under this government, anyone who is involved in the emancipation of the tribal and Dalit poor are targets and considered to be anti-national merely because their activities are an impediment to the government to implement its fascist, casteist and communal agenda, while robbing the tribals of their rights, land and historical resources and the Dalits of their rightful human dignity and equality. And the Covid pandemic has given it a cover to target such folk.

The Covid phase has seen particular targeting of the Dalits, with the Hathras rape case in which the state government and the district administration has openly committed crimes, has now drawn international attention to the plight of Dalits under this government and under the pandemic. Women, have particularly faced the brunt with everyday seeing a Dalit girl or woman being raped or raped and murdered to cover up the rape with both the state and the Union government actively colluding in cover-up.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment has been Supreme Court judgeswho failed to act against the negligence of the government in handling every aspect of the pandemic. Rather they has been actively trying to protect the Union government’s failure, abandoning their prime constitutional role and the very reason of their existence – to protect the interest of the people not the government. The SC is reduced to nothing but a eager colluder with the government in the rape of the constitution and of the rights of the people.

All dictatorial government’s like the present Indian government have existed on the illusion that their run world continue forever. But history shows us that their run is always limited and there will be time when everyone in the government will be held accountable for their crimes. One waits for bated breath for this to happen in India. The time for this is not afar.

Provided the SC is staffed by judges of integrity and character as opposed to the many judges now who are nothing but the stooges of the government, expecting bones to be thrown to them post retirement, following the example of their predecessor CJ, Ranjan Gogoi, who is an eternal blot on the Indian judiciary for the manner he bent over for the ruling government to achieve its communal and political agenda, only to sit as a lapdog in parliament. Ironically, today it is not the SC but the state High Court’s that are doing the job that the SC should be doing.

India will survive the Covid pandemic, but at what cost, especially since most of the situation now could have been avoided if the government had acted when it should have one 29 January, when the first case was reported in India? That is the day all international and domestic airports should have been shut-down. This one single factor is enormously responsible for the virus going pandemic as early as mid- February.

Rather, showing zero regard for the welfare of the people it kept its airports open to entertain Trump and his coterie who enormously added to the numbers of people bringing in the virus into the country through multiple airports.

When it should have been preoccupied with controlling the pandemic, it was busy unleashing communal violence in Delhi following its humiliating defeat in the assembly polls. When it should have been busy consolidating and acquiring resources to handle the pandemic, it was busy till mid-March in toppling of the government in Madhya Pradesh. It was only when its political agenda was accomplished the ruling government decided to act in Mid-march.

When it did, it did in the most Quixtoic manner a lock-down has ever been done, devastating the economy, putting millions of migrant-labor in misery and at the end of it all, despite basing its claims on conjecture rather than on quantifiable data, achieving next to nothing after the lock-down. Since lifting the total lock-down in most parts of the country on May 31 the number of cases have risen 35 times from 182,143 cases to 7.15 million cases at the time of writing this story. In every other country the lock-down resulted in declining numbers of cases.

And even if one believes the government claims of the present Covid figures being low, it is not something that anyone sane can trumpet around. Having a 7.1 million infected population when it could have substantially avoided if you had done your job is not an achievement; it is a national shame.

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