Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament | Photo: Lok Sabha TV
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India’s preparedness to deal with the coronavirus pandemic can be judged by many indicators. One of them is the seriousness with which Indian Parliament discussed it. As last as 20 March, the AYUSH Ministry was responding to queries in Parliament and also advocating Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy as means “to prevent the outbreak of Corona Virus”.

India reported its first positive case of coronavirus on 30 January. The next day saw the beginning of Parliament’s budget session, which lasted until 23 March — a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 21-day nationwide lockdown and both the Houses of Parliament were adjourned sine die.

During the session, as many as 50 wide-ranging questions related to coronavirus were asked by members of the two Houses — 27 in Rajya Sabha and 23 in Lok Sabha. Questions pertained to the impact of the virus on India’s economy, jobs, and the manufacturing sector. Some members sought to know about possible cure of the disease.

The answers and clarifications provided by the different ministries of the Modi government can be best described as routine and casual. But the scene was no different outside Parliament. Absurd suggestions and quackery ranging from cow dung to gaumutra (cow urine) to ’15 minutes of sunbathing’ were all suggested as possible cure of coronavirus, most of them by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).


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Unhealthy stance

On 26 February, Indian government had dispatched 15 tonnes of medical supplies to China, whose Wuhan city had reported the first case of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This was confirmed by Union health minister Harsh Vardhan in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha on 6 March. This was the status of India’s preparedness just 7 days before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as global pandemic. The number of infected people had crossed 80,000 globally. More importantly, more new cases were being reported from other countries than from China.

India, whose health infrastructure has come under severe scrutiny in the management of the outbreak, had three confirmed cases of coronavirus when it had dispatched the medical supplies to China but saw a rise in positive cases later on a daily basis, along with several deaths. India was sending equipment and medical supplies to China at a time when the disease was spreading globally and China was able to contain it geographically.

On 4 March, civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri informed the Rajya Sabha that “Universal screening of all passengers coming in flights from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Nepal, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Italy and Iran is being carried out at the airports having international connectivity.”

At that time, coronavirus cases had been reported in as many as 70 countries. The US, which itself had banned visitors from Europe and had already reported more than 150 cases with some deaths, was not seen as fit for inclusion in the list of countries from where flyers were going to be ‘universally screened’.


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Govt’s faulty assurances 

It appears that the Members of Parliament were pro-active and regularly warning the Modi government of the severity of the situation by asking pertinent questions. The queries from MPs started pouring in during February and the frequency was higher in March. The Modi government kept assuring it was fully prepared to tackle the problem, when it wasn’t.

On 4 March, Prime Minister Modi had announced that he won’t take part in any Holi Milan programme because of the coronavirus threat — which suggests that he was aware of the problem and even knew that physical distancing was one of the measures to stop the spread. His concern was understandable since the virus had infected more than three lakh people globally and the death count had surpassed 14,500 by then. And yet, both Houses of Parliament would continue to function for nearly three weeks more.

If it took so long for the Modi government to realise that a gathering of hundreds of people inside Parliament was also a health hazard, what measure could it have possibly taken for the citizens to avoid community transmission?


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Crucial incident

Perhaps it was the incident involving singer Kanika Kapoor that forced the Indian political class to adjourn the House. The news of Kanika Kapoor being infected with COVID-19 broke on 20 March, Friday — and 23 March turned out to be the last day of the budget session. What happened? Lok Sabha MP Dushyant Singh and his mother, former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, had attended a party in Lucknow, where Kanika was also present. Dushyant had later attended Parliament, and so when news about Kanika being infected with Covid-19 broke, it caused an alarm. When the House commenced after two days of recess, the first thing to happen was its adjournment sine die.

If the incident involving Kanika Kapoor had not happened, would the budget session of Parliament have run its full course — until 3 April?


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Lack of urgency

On 18 March, the Rajya Sabha had asked for the curtailment or suspension of the budget session but an unwilling government had responded by saying it needed to show resolve to fight the infection”. Minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi argued that “showing any panic will not be in the national interest”.

That same day, the Rajya Sabha also discussed whether MPs should be allowed to wear a face mask or not. Rajya Sabha chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu said that wearing masks is against the rules of the House. Finally, Naidu agreed to allow the members to wear it after the intervention of Congress’ P. Chidambaram and other MPs’ contention that they were simply following government advisory on coronavirus.

This was the status of the affairs of the supreme law making institution when India was preparing for one of the worst human tragedies of recent times.

The author is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.

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11 Comments Share Your Views

11 COMMENTS

  1. Some one responded at length as equal as the original article. Does the judges better than medical professionals?
    Now a days it has become fashion to run to the supreme court for every matter like visiting a provisions store. Entire country knows about our poor state of medical infrastructure, so we can’t fight with virus once affect the people so prevention works absolutely better than treatment.
    Coming to the benefit of doubt, before tabligi issue came out entire country was silent and cases were very minimal, the irresponsible visiters of jamath, and not revealing their visit, not willing to get tested and not willing to quarantine, stone pelting and chasing medical staff with their pet dogs when they visit to collect data on tabligi attendees, bashing the doctors for the food of their choice, (happened in hyderabad), does the layer want to claim all these are benefit of doubt.
    If these people does the same in any muslim country they would have been hanged publicly.

    They are fortunate be born in India.

    Now in many vilages and remote placed uneducated people are following lockdown seriously than cities. Currently India is facing mire and more issues on kovid with well educated brutes and religious fools

    • Well said Prof.Rao. If some scoundrels do all
      Unruly things in the name of democracy,then the country doesn’t need that kind of democracy.

  2. These so called science based modern think tanks have failed to understand that the body heals itself from any damage amd being humans we are privileged to identify and offer additional medicines in form of herbal treatments to boost the immune and enabling it to throw out the maladies.

    All living beings have their respective systems and so do humans. But just because some western ridiculous clinical research practices are trusted yet the science of life called ayurveda has been so badly disregarded.

    Lets be simple and think that whatever instructions we r getting for protection from covid are part of our Sanatan culture since ages and this includes regular hand wash, rules after coming from. funeral, rules after coming from hair cut, rules after coming from any hospital, isolation of people after birth of baby, death in any family called sootak…

    this is to be understood that our body heals itself with help of some herbs and precautions…. even corona will be thrown away from. our country in a shorter time as the lock down was imposed very timely.

    I don’t see all those staticians now to compare the graphs. where are they who were saying 3 april will bring disaster etc….

    Now tabligi jamaat, yes benefits of doubt can be given to gullible followers but what about the leader who is provoking to breach the law of land and now hidden for his own qurentine.

  3. In this article “In India’s fight against coronavirus, one arm failed miserably — Parliamentou” you have highlighted things which were expected by the Indian government in response to coronavirus spread but not done on time. However in my view, it was difficult for anybody including government to visualise coming of silent killer with having no such past experience, so benifit of doubts tilt in favour of government. So, at this juncture we should not blame government for delayed action as it was not intentional. Even the Delhi government has committed unintentional mistake. But the same yardstick for giving benifit of doubts should also be given to citizens and private institutions or organisations or religious body. Similarly, the mistakes based on religious beliefs that masjids are house of Allah and one should seek solace there and pray to God for forgiveness from this punishment of pandemic coronavirus ignoring the basic tenets of Islam that do whatever possible to save your and others’ life, is also unintentional mistake and not deliberate one. So, mistakes committed by Tablighi Jamat in Delhi are unintentional and deserve benifit of doubts. But certain media houses and Central government as well as Delhi government are trying to put entire onus on spread of COVID-19 on Tablighi jamat which is not justified from any reasonable thinking. It is another matter governments got the scape goat in Tablighi jamat to cover up their initial inaction to handle coronavirus pandemic in India and more particularly diverting attention of people from mass exodus of daily wage labourer. Now government will also say, it has to extend the period of lockdown further because of Tablighi jamat spreading coronavirus as narrative is being started to set by certain media house like Zee TV through its anchor Mr Chaudhary. This is unfortunate to notice that how poisonous our minds have become. In this scenario, it is hoped that Hon’ble Supreme Court should intervene and set the guidelines in respect of coronavirus so that non can be victimized in the name of handling this deadly virus COVID-19. It is better also if we refrain from seeing things with religious specks as corona spread none. At least at this juncture of global crisis we should forget our enmity if any for the time being. Hope we will respond maturely in public for our happy future. Humanity is in danger and our efforts should be to save it.
    Adv. Shakil Akhtar
    Supreme Court of India
    # 9717214471.

  4. On 4 March, Prime Minister Modi had announced that he won’t take part in any Holi Milan programme because of the coronavirus threat — which suggests that he was aware of the problem and even knew that physical distancing was one of the measures to stop the spread. His concern was understandable since the virus had infected more than three lakh people globally and the death count had surpassed 14,500 by then. And yet, both Houses of Parliament would continue to function for nearly three weeks more.

    The above paragraph, on what basis / reference, did the author state those numbers related to covid-19? According to WHO report, on March 4th, the total number of reported cases were 93091 globally and 3198 deaths. Please get your stats right before publishing an article or making a statement!

  5. What a stupid article. This has been twisted in every possible way to divert the attention from the real topic.

    This is Dirty Journalism 101.

  6. India is doing vey well as compared to USA where the first COrona +ive case was reported in January last week , so did India- last week of Jan.

    The number of fatalities will speak for itself.

    Ayush did very well . In fact Ayush is the only Governmen body that suggested any medicine.

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