Monday, March 27, 2023
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India’s crawling Covid vaccination rate & the ‘babuji dheere chal na’ mentality in bureaucracy

India is lagging behind other countries in its vaccination efforts due to the government's 'control freak mindset', argues Shekhar Gupta in episode 686 of ThePrint's 'Cut The Clutter'.

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New Delhi: With only 0.63 per cent of Indians vaccinated against Covid-19 so far, as opposed to 80 per cent of Israelis, 27 per cent of Britons and 17 per cent of Americans, India is “cherry-picking” figures with regard to its vaccination effort, argued ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta in episode 686 of ‘Cut The Clutter’.

He pointed out that while official government sources have been quoting per-million figures with regard to cases, deaths and tests, they are opting for absolute figures when it comes to the vaccination effort. For example, the health ministry has focused on India becoming the fastest country in the world to vaccinate more than seven million people by taking only 26 days to accomplish this feat as compared to the US and UK which took 27 and 48 days, respectively, to reach the same figure.

Gupta began with a reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark against ‘babus’ in Parliament, last week, which caused hushed tones of shock among IAS officers. Gupta explained that ‘babu’ refers to bureaucrats who rarely decide anything despite having the power to say yes or no. “Now, that mentality has also taken hold of our national vaccination programme,” he added, saying the latest bunch to join the ‘babus’ are the bureaucrats of India’s scientific establishment.

Also read: Slow vaccination deliberate, will soon rise to 70 lakh/day from 5 lakh: ICMR task force member

‘Cherry-picking’ India’s achievements

India has much to be proud of on the Covid-19 front, said Gupta, adding that the country has registered 113 deaths per million. This is by far the lowest among major countries —the US has recorded 1,400 deaths per million while the UK and Europe approximately have 1,700 per million.

India has also registered approximately 7,900 coronavirus cases per million compared to approximately 83,000 per million in the US, 59,000 per million in the UK, 52,000 per million in France and 46,000 per million in Brazil, explained Gupta. India’s tests per million have also risen, he added.

Many global newspapers have noted India’s lower figures by asking what is the “mystery” behind its success but a Wall Street Journal report suggested it was due to strict adherence to masks, observed Gupta.

However, when the same standard is applied to vaccinations, India’s rate is only 6,300 per million or 0.63 per cent of Indians who have been vaccinated. Compare this to 8 lakh vaccinations per million in Israel, 1.7 lakh in the US, 2.6 lakh in the UK and 5.4 lakh in the UAE. He added that in Israel, hospitalisation is down by 30 per cent and critically ill patients are down by 30 per cent. Yet official government sources in India have focused on absolute figures such as how fast India has reached a certain number of vaccinations in a stipulated period, he said.

‘Babuji dheera chalna, sarkar me zara samalna’

India is lagging behind in the global vaccination effort despite being one of the largest manufacturers of Covid vaccines and selling vaccines overseas to over 90 other countries, observed Gupta.

However, he clarified it’s not as though the Indian government is denying its own people the vaccine because they’d rather sell it overseas. Instead, India is deliberately opting for a slow roll-out of vaccines should there be any ‘hiccups’.

If this isn’t a case of ‘babuji dheera chalna, sarkar me zara samalna’ , then what is it?” asked Gupta. Here, he was referring to a phrase he used in a column in 2011 describing how the concept of “hastening slowly” plagues India’s bureaucracy.

He further explained that the ‘babu’ mentality is a kind of “control freak mindset” wherein bureaucrats prefer saying ‘maybe’ rather than a decisive yes or no as it is more convenient and tempting to do so.

Citing the example of the private sector’s contributions to India’s coronavirus testing efforts, Gupta said the feat was only achievable as there were “all hands on deck”. He asked why the same was not happening with the vaccination programme.

Watch full CTC episode here:

Also read: India beat Covid ‘doomsday’ prophecies, made ‘monumental strides’ in handling pandemic: ICMR 


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  1. You have a big problem. When they said let’s vaccinate you said the vaccinations haven’t been tested. Now you complain they are too slow.
    You would have been the first to compliance if some stray incident happened due to the vaccine. Be positive for once
    You said farmer laws are good. Then you said it’s politics in a democracy its OK, if they have failed and protests happen.

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