Friday, 12 August, 2022
HomeOpinionIndia shouldn’t struggle with Covid-19 lockdown. It organises Kumbh Mela much better

India shouldn’t struggle with Covid-19 lockdown. It organises Kumbh Mela much better

Days into PM Modi’s national lockdown to fight coronavirus, there was chaos in India. Doctors didn’t have gears, people panicked and essential supplies were being stopped.

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Across the globe, the reaction of countries to the Covid-19 pandemic is to lock down borders both internal and external. The world’s largest democracy, India, too has belatedly decided to do the same.

The pandemic, however, has demonstrated a stark reality: countries — such as Singapore and South Korea — that invested in human capital, especially education and health, are doing better than others.

India’s abysmal investment in human capital will be one of the challenges that will stymie the Narendra Modi government’s efforts to combat the pandemic.


Also read: This is the team advising PM Modi in India’s battle against coronavirus


India has the capacity

As of now, the world’s largest democracy of 1.3 billion people, has only reported 727 confirmed cases and 20 deaths. That incredibly low number will, however, rise in the coming days and weeks.

The lockdown will impose a strain on not just India’s healthcare system but also its transport infrastructure, including delivery of food, water and essential services. India struggles in providing basic goods and services to its people under normal conditions.

The Indian state, however, has the potential for mobilising and executing complex logistical feats.

The Kumbh Mela, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, is held every 12 years. Each time, states across northern India are able to ensure that millions of pilgrims and tourists attending the religious assembly have access to food, sanitation, water, and electricity.

For the 2019 gathering, attended by 150 million people, a temporary city was constructed; special trains and planes carried pilgrims and tourists; and a special police force and district administration were created.

Yet, within 24 hours after the start of the current Indian lockdown due to coronavirus, there are reports of doctors and essential service personnel being prevented from movement, trucks carrying food and essential services being stranded on highways and a sense of panic on the streets.

This begs the question: how can India ensure excellent arrangements for millions of people for a once-in-six-years religious gathering while it fails to provide the same basic amenities to its citizens on a regular basis and especially during a pandemic?


Also read: Modi’s Covid-19 lockdown speech shows he doesn’t learn from past mistakes, or doesn’t care


The Indus Valley heritage

It all comes down to determining priorities and executing plans effectively. Indians have, for thousands of years, demonstrated their capacity to build and maintain functioning cities.

Archaeologists have found evidence of well laid out and planned cities from the Indus Valley civilisation, one of the oldest in the world and the oldest in the Indian subcontinent. Harappa and Mohenjodaro, built around 5,000 years ago, had public as well as private bathrooms, covered drains, streets arranged so that they could be regularly cleaned, and granaries for their residents.

If a country inheriting that civilisational legacy now has an abysmal record on these fronts, it reflects poor governance, not an inherent incapacity for organisation and discipline.


Also read: Modi’s poorly planned lockdown won’t save us from coronavirus, but will kill economy


Broken healthcare sector

India’s healthcare is an area where mis-governance has undermined the development of human capital. Healthcare is important for developing human capital, because a sick population loses productivity and drains resources from the healthy to care for the ill. Unfortunately, India has failed to invest in the type of healthcare infrastructure needed to support its population.

The Indian government has been slow in providing its people with serious preventative care — immunisation, access to safe water, decent sanitation, and nutritional support for children. This shifts a disproportionate amount of healthcare costs onto individuals.

India spends 1.28 per cent of GDP on health, and has one of the world’s lowest shares of public spending in total health spending (29 per cent) and one of the highest share of private spending (71 per cent) and share of out of pocket private spending (61 per cent) in total health spending.

The Indian government regulates healthcare tightly, but the centrally administered health networks are grossly dysfunctional. If we look at the supply side, even though the government spends money on primary care infrastructure and personnel, it delivers care that is no better in competence and much more labour-intensive than the private sector. Turning to the demand side, surveys show that patients often prefer to go to a fee-charging doctor who will treat them with more consideration even when private doctors are less qualified than doctors in government hospitals.


Also read: I am no fan of Modi, but I support coronavirus lockdown. Opposition should too


Underinvestment for decades

India also faces a shortage of trained doctors. According to a 2015 study, India needs at least 400,000 physicians to fit its needs, but barely has 90,000 qualified professionals. Moreover, India also suffers from brain drain in the healthcare sector.

Over the years, India has underinvested in its cities, its institutions, and most of all its people. Unlike many of India’s challenges, the failure to invest in human capital is not a product of ideological divide. It is the function of petty political division, legacies of big government, lack of foresight, and the type of simple mismanagement that is common to developing countries.

Faced with a pandemic that has the ability to test every institution of governance, the Indian state needs to respond in the same coordinated manner that it does when it comes to the Kumbh Mela. Smart but difficult statecraft is necessary to pull India out of this crisis.

The author is Research Fellow and Director, India Initiative at the Washington-DC based Hudson Institute. Her books include ‘Escaping India: Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy’ (Routledge, 2011), ‘From Chanakya to Modi: The Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy’ (Harper Collins, 2017) and ‘Making India Great: The Promise of a Reluctant Global Power’ (Harper Collins, 2020). Views are personal.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. This is just an observation. Print is an Indian news paper . Say what you want to say but this India, India parroting is obnoxious and pathetic. Low in self esteem. Does it have to shout India, India in all headlines? Do the readers not understand your reference point is India? What is the difference between you and RSS gang that shouts Jai Sri Ram at the drop of a hat?

  2. I have not come across a more stupid (regret the usage, but nothing more is apt) comparison. Kumbh mela is planned months (if not years ) ahead of event. It is restricted to a small geographical area compared to whole of India. And finally it is an event not a pandemic ! Strongly recommend to Print to do some quality check before printing. Last few columns have been junk !

  3. One of the common theme of articles in Anti-Modi media is that most of the columnists do realise in their hearts that handling of Corona virus crisis by Modi government is correct. But they are not willing to admit it honestly. They come out on daily and hourly basis with funny stories and arguments to dominise the MAN –Modi — due to inherent hatred imbibed by them under influence of their ex-masters. They started criticizing package for poor announced by the honorable Finance Minister before she completed her press conference. Todays RBI initiative is pooh poohed before its fine prints are out. Most of the economic Journalists in India are drawing room veterans . They even don t know Indian Industrial units, Construction entities face labour shortage after Holi when every years lakhs of daily wage workers, casual workers migrate from cities to village to participate in harvesting of food grains in most parts of India. They have forgotten recent history of demonetisation , when informal jobs were suddenly reduced , but India and Indian economy bounced back within no time. The present crisis are not time to show your allegiance to your erst-while ex-rulers. It is time of national and international level human crisis not faced by the countries of the world and India during last seven decades since the end of WW -II. So don t spread panic. Don t spread rumours. At least keep watching how a Government dedicated to cause of people tames the dreaded virus. Humanity always wins .

  4. “The pandemic, however, has demonstrated a stark reality: countries — such as Singapore and South Korea — that invested in human capital, especially education and health, are doing better than others.” If this is true then Western Europe and the United States haven’t invested in human capital. So guess the author is better off advising her own country the US, then worrying about India.

  5. Filling up matters without substance. Comparing Sjkngapre/South Korea to India itself started off in a wrong platter. Negativity in the whole body. No matter what you do, it cannot change.

  6. Views expressed seem to be biased . Kumbh Mela is organized in a specified geographical area , whereas pandemic has no geographical bounds .

    Yes Doctors are not given their dues , they are treated as par with other professionals , particularly on state level . Medical education and medical profession must be made at least four times more lucrative .

  7. Only people who have bias against INDIA and Hindus talk and write such stupid comparisons… They forget their Origin or the Heritage and join the lobby which pays for being stupidly critical of the Modi Govt…

    They all have inbuilt fear that they cannot do crooked business activity in INDIA anymore and hence are being funded by crooks and thief’s who were bent on looting INDIA.

  8. It’s stupid to compare govt. efficiency in handling a planned once in 5-6 yrs event (kumbh mela) to a sudden unplanned global pandemic (coronavirus).

    India has, along with the indus valley civilization, inherited the effects of 600yrs of brutal foreign rule and domination as well. India was looted and raped during the industrial revolution setting us back centuries.

    Every single indian govt. since independence could’ve done a much better job and the country could be in a much better financial position but for the rampant corruption all across the country. This much is true.

  9. In this time of crisis, India is very fortunate that the ship is being guided by a great Captain and a very able Executive Officer.

    We shudder to think what would happen if Heir Apparent was at the wheel, guided by his Mommy, advised by elder Sis with Bro-In-Law as his XO.
    That would certainly set India back by 21 years – there is no doubt about that.

    Nobody is fooled by your agenda. Try a different approach Madam.

  10. how much you are getting from kichadi parties tukde tukde gang. if you have capacity go and give advises to US UK Italy France etc.

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