New Delhi: With the central government caught napping as the country struggled with the deluge of Covid cases during the fresh wave of the pandemic, some of the country’s top bureaucrats got a dressing down from Prime Minister Narendra Modi for failing to handle the situation in a better way, government sources told ThePrint.
The officials were pulled up Saturday at a meeting chaired by Modi to review the status of preparedness to handle the Covid-19 pandemic.
The meeting was attended by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, Principal Secretary to the PM P.K. Mishra, Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, Pharma Secretary S. Aparna, and Niti Aayog member Dr V.K. Paul, among others.
Government sources privy to what transpired at the meeting said an “upset” Modi told the senior officials how their efforts this time around has not been up to the mark. “He told the bureaucrats in as many words that they have not been as enthusiastic in responding to the crisis like last time,” said a source.
The PM told the officials that with the experience gained from handling the Covid pandemic situation last year, they should have been better prepared this time around, the sources said.
“The PM told the bureaucrats that at that time India did not have anything initially, be it PPE kits or mask. He said that the government overcame the challenge and started manufacturing PPE kits, masks and ventilators. With the experience gained from last time, the PM said, we should have been better prepared,” said the source quoted above.
ThePrint approached Jaideep Bhatnagar, Director General, Press Information Bureau, who is the official spokesperson for the government, and the PMO through emails Tuesday for comments but did not get a response till the time of publishing this report.
‘What good are the task forces for?’
One of the government sources ThePrint spoke to, who is in the forefront of handling the Covid situation, said the PM also wanted to know what good are all the task forces and expert groups if they could not see the deluge of Covid cases coming during the second wave.
“The PM asked the bureaucrats what is the use of having expert groups with technical knowledge if it could not help them prepare for such a huge number of cases,” the source said.
The Modi government had in March 2020 constituted 11 empowered groups headed by secretaries to plan and ensure quick implementation of decisions taken to check the spread of the novel coronavirus. These 11 groups were in September replaced by six larger groups to deal with various issues, including looking into medical infrastructure and Covid management plan.
After having been caught napping when the second wave of the Covid pandemic hit India, the government has now gone into an emergency mode.
PM Modi has held over half-a-dozen back-to-back meetings in the last two days with various stakeholders to fast-track the government’s response mechanism, be it ramping up vaccine production or ensuring supply of medical oxygen to states that are reporting shortage.
At Saturday’s meeting, Modi also said the Centre should ensure close coordination with states to ramp up the availability of hospital beds for Covid patients.
(Edited by Sanghamitra Mazumdar)
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