File photo of PM Narendra Modi | ThePrint
File photo of PM Narendra Modi | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
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The growing storm over the time and money wasted by the Narendra Modi government in procuring rapid antibody testing kits for coronavirus from China, which have now demonstrated a mere 5 per cent accuracy rate, points to serious failures of policy and decision-making on the part of the government and its favoured medical agency, the Indian Council of Medical Research or ICMR.

This week, the ICMR halted testing for Covid-19 cases, admitting to embarrassingly major variations in test results. The entire episode has shown up yet again the abject fecklessness of the Modi government’s unprofessional management of the Covid-19 crisis.

Opposition leaders like myself who have raised the issue have been confronted with the usual backlash from the government’s supporters. Their response – disregarding the usual ‘whataboutery’ and gratuitous references to “70 years of Congress rule” (which suggests that today’s BJP trolls have decided to cede Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the Congress!) – made two main points.

The first, in essence, is: “What could the Modi government have done about it? Many other countries have also had the same experience.” The second boils down to: “What other choice did the government have? The Congress was asking for rapid tests, the public and the experts were clamouring for them. What other option was there?” Allow me to address each objection in turn.


Also read: ICMR asks states to stop using rapid Covid-19 tests after complaints of patchy results


Chinese testing kits failing world

The first objection begs the counter: Yes, that is exactly the point. How smart is a government if it does not learn from the mistakes of other governments? Isn’t it foolish to make the same mistake as others, knowing that it is a mistake – and that too at the cost of public health and money?

At a time when coronavirus testing is widely acknowledged as vital, the inaccuracy levels of the Chinese kits have received international opprobrium. Against the 80 per cent accuracy required of testing kits by both the EU Medicine and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chinese kits have failed miserably. They registered 20 per cent accuracy in the Czech Republic, 30 per cent in Spain, 35 per cent in Turkey and 40 per cent in the Philippines, before India placed its own orders and found the Chinese kits were scoring 5 per cent here.

Spain, a severely coronavirus-afflicted nation with among the highest number of positive cases, returned around 6,00,000 faulty Chinese kits to the manufacturer, Shenzhen Bioeasy Technology. Italy and the Netherlands have stopped testing with Chinese kits. The British government, appalled by the poor performance of the kits it bought from China, wants a $20 million refund from two Chinese companies. The Philippines says they have discarded their Chinese kits, and Slovakia declared the 1.2 million Chinese antibody tests it had purchased for $1.83 million to be so worthless that Prime Minister Igor Matovic was quoted as saying that they should “just be thrown straight into the Danube”.

Of course, Chinese spokesmen in India keep claiming their kits are fine, provided they are procured from authorised manufacturers, and the ones sold to India are “verified”. “China attaches great importance to the quality of exported medical products”, declared Chinese embassy spokesperson Ji Rong, claiming that China had made its regulatory measures more stringent to raise export quality standards. But India went ahead and ordered from the same Chinese company — Guangzhou Wondfo — with which the UK government had a bad experience. Whether this reflects ineptitude or collusion – or worse – it is difficult to say a kind word about this decision. If the orders had already been placed before the bad news started coming in from abroad – a possible next line of defence for Modi government – why weren’t the orders cancelled, especially when it was anyway delayed? Why couldn’t we refuse delivery until China proved their test kits worked?


Also read: Modi govt approves made-in-India rapid test kits after Chinese supply is delayed


Many options at home

The second defence used by the Modi government’s acolytes – that there were no other options – is simply untenable. There were. The answer lay in the indigenous development of testing kits, just as the US, South Korea and Germany have done. Indians are no less capable of doing the same thing, but for reasons best known to the decision-makers in the country, the government has neither been smart enough not quick enough to facilitate it.

In fact, there are two successful initiatives from reputable institutions in my own constituency, Thiruvananthapuram, with which I am closely associated as the local MP and also as a member of their governing bodies – the prestigious Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) and the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), both ‘centres of excellence’ recognised as such by the government.

SCTIMST’s RT-LAMP test, a conclusive, yet faster and cheaper, test that can replace the expensive and time-consuming RT-PCR test, and RGCB’s antibody rapid test kits (the kind we have now imported from China and found faulty) are still awaiting ICMR approval, weeks after completing all the necessary validations.

At this time of national emergency, when ICMR should be taking decisions in matter of hours and days, rather than weeks and months, there is a baffling dragging of feet in New Delhi.

I had given Rs 1 crore in funding to SCTIMST from my MPLADS account on 30 March, shortly before Prime Minister Modi announced he was sequestering all the MPLADS funds (ironically, in order to fight Covid-19!). Since then, SCTMIST has moved rapidly, completed R&D, tested their product – and achieved a 100 per cent accuracy rate in trials – but the long-awaited certification from ICMR has still not come, without which the kits cannot be mass-manufactured. This is also the case with RGCB. Meanwhile, SD Biosensor, a South Korean company, has started production of rapid testing kits in India, with a capacity to produce 5,00,000 per week.

With SCTIMST’s new gold-standard product, RGCB’s and now SD Biosensor’s, the government of India will have no dearth of locally-available options. And this at a time when the world is turning away from China as a result of both mistrust in the government and fear of the reliability of their products, as well as out of a widespread desire to reduce dependence on Beijing. Why, then, did the Modi government procure faulty kits from China? In the famously discredited words of a television showman, the nation wants to know.

The author is a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and former MoS for External Affairs and HRD. He served the UN as an administrator and peacekeeper for three decades. He studied History at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University and International Relations at Tufts University. Tharoor has authored 19 books, both fiction and non-fiction. Follow him on Twitter @ShashiTharoor. Views are personal.

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43 Comments Share Your Views

43 COMMENTS

  1. Modi knowingly wasted lot of money on chinese faulty products.
    cause in 27th March 2020 end of weekend there was wion news reporter Palki sharma report that from Spain, Italy, turkey and other countries they share their experience that chinese medkit is faulty…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeehLHSZkOQ
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uV6Wa6EfXgI (Please check this video). these videos reported in 27th march
    and even after that India buy medkit from china in april and they gave this same statement on 16th april. which is totally foolish. when there more than 8 countries giving their experience on medkit indian government buy medkit from china only to say china medkits are faulty then this government NOOB.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97MscEICXq0&t
    Wion channel is Indian channel Palki sharma is Indian news anchor and whole Indian knows these news but government sleeping while this happening.

  2. Mr. T, we are dealing with a Tv/ media showman who happened to be the prime minister. What else do you expect other than some rating games?

  3. Mr Tharoor raised this issue of underrated rapid testing kit procured from china is well noted and could be an example to act ICMR team more accurate and usefull for future many asignments which would be always on the floor in near future against this deadly epidemic COVID-19
    Motive of pointing such issues should not be framed politicaly .
    As per my thinking in ICMR team, there are many people are highly technical background may be a million times superior than Mr Tharoor ,so its not right time to raised this issue
    If Mr Tharoor use this issue as tool to show incompetency in decision making of present govermeny ,so its so unfortunate ..
    Not responding against 2008 Mumbai terror attack was a competent decision of our
    Ex.PM Manmohan singh ?

  4. Bhakts do not address the moot point that Dr Tharoor has raised in this article:Why is the ICMR dragging its feet in giving certification to the Indian product?

  5. All those comments which make a poor attempt to defend the government are not convincing at all. They have essentially skirted the main issue and are engaged in the usual exercise of abusing the Congress. One may criticize the Congress, but it doesn’t answer the basic question : Why did the Government trust the Chinese products, when the global market reports indicated that these products were defective? Obviously, the money paid to the Chinese company will not be refunded by them. This is an avoidable loss to the exchequer. Answer this, don’t engage in the abusive battle.

  6. Remember even after icmr government repeatedly telling these rapid testing is not useful and accurate you people pressurized government and make them import. Now you want to run away from this. How is that possible. Kerala your state is leading one to make claims on rapid testing. People of India can understand every thing you can’t fool us. .

  7. These kits have come from China so as the Corona virus. When will we learn from the blunders we commit time and again
    Aren’t there any committed sincere citizens to look into such purchases at what cost at what price . China want to destroy India and its economy what will we leave behind for our children only trouble trouble trouble
    China wants to be a world leader and they are going to succeed at this rate. All the best

  8. Dear sashi
    Why waste precious time on writing on things you and i are not qualified to write upon. The decision of the government is not taken by a low level class 4 employee but by senior bureaucrats in consultation with ICMR and other bodies. You and i are nowhere in the pic. Do not croon to please your political masters and continue to be a wet door mat for them. Use your grey matter a bit, discuss with persons of integrity, maturity and commitment to the country before yodeling. Anyhow thanks for the entertainment. RIP.

    • Haha good joke clubbing a nobody like yourself with Shashi Tharoor. Just because your low grade brain can’t think doesnt mean others can’t. These bureaucrats who you say made the decision couldn’t have done so without the nod of their political masters so dont deflect blame. Address the issue and suggest solutions if you can.

      • Read Natesh’s comment again or take somebody’s help to understand what exactly he has written.As far as clubbing one
        self with taroor is concerned , I have a feeling that you were born just a few days ago.

  9. It is not the time to rake up such scientific issues about the new virus and murky the political waters. But nothing better can be expected from a third-grade seedy politician like Sashi Tharoor, who has his worth of shady dealings behind him. As a low-level retainer of a family that had a tyrannical control over India for the most part of its existence since 1947, nothing better can be expected. Now, look at the facts.

    In the initial days of the COVID-19 outbreak, the US decided refused to accept the WHO-approved test and decided to develop their test and testing kits. The quest for “our own testing” caused the US to lose almost one month of crucial time before their bungled testing developed process could approve something useful. The disastrous trajectory the US is now having with nearly one million infected and over 50,000 dead and dead bodies being disposed of in mass burial sites in the heart of New York is primarily attributed to this vanity of needing “my testing.” There is no doubt faulty RT-PCR test kits coming from China, maybe because of the rushed manufacturing processes. India can very well produce RT-PCR tests based on international standards. But speed is the essence here, which may require us to use test kits from abroad.

    The RT-LAMP test mentioned here is still in experimental deployment in many other countries. It can not replace RT-PCR until more mass scale studies are done for its reliability. It may prove to faster and reliable, but it depends on more reviews. This test can’t be approved by someone in ICMR signing a piece of paper. The second test mentioned in an antibody test, which can’t replace RT-PCR tests that detect the virus. Blood tests can compliment RT-PCR tests and could be useful in surveillance. Various blood tests are available in the world now – by one count over 300 – but not one among these has been deployed anywhere in the world. A lot of these tests have sensitivity problems and could potentially come with dangerously erroneous data. The pandemic management strategies if are based on such inaccurate data will endanger the lives of millions of people.

      • A low IQ bhakt to any day better than a sterling slave of a despotic family. Now, it is a long jump to South Korea for vanity testing.

      • One can understand your frustration with any lengthy comment because your capacity to write or understand a comment is limited to one line.Bye, you oneliner.

    • I think people here are judging a govt decisions.
      Indoa hot both chinese and korean kit.
      But there was delay from korean as whole world
      is fighting for this kits.
      Some times options are not existing.
      If you delay one day we are loosing lockdown
      period will extend loose more people.
      We cant wait for best gun.in battle we have
      fight with what u have or available.
      Its easy to comment.
      Just imagine if we behaved like US or Italy .
      Thanks god. Its easy comment not easy to perform.
      We have 1.2 bln. people which is adverse to çontrol
      pandemic like this. Bharat mata ki Jai

  10. Sasi Taroor and all others wasting time in doing slavery for Gandhi family. If any is real leader Congress party should make Rahul to sit home because Rahul sitting India not able to win even a single seat in Delhi polls. Only leaders can comment on Govt decisions not slaves.

  11. We all should accept it s a mistake but no one tells about what next. Is our country going to get back our money. Is the government or any other parties trying to get instead of blaming and would also like to request each party or the fellow people how about the expats who are waiting to get back to their loved ones back in India.

  12. It is better to you mr shashi to tell your boss that Not using zoom app and go for any indian app…. It is much easier to done…… That type of politics of congress couldn’t work and you will sit till 2029.

  13. I fully endorse Dr. Tharoor here.
    In Crisis, test of leadership is in its decision making ability. 2o % may be error.
    This Chinese import is a major blunder.
    And Information Highway among parliamentarians in India is very poor given their tu tu , main main attitude.
    Lord assist us!

  14. So essentially, he is saying Govt should wait till domestic options are available. For me I am not sure of quality of Indian products unless thoroughly tested (a legacy of Congress self sufficiency).

    And asking for more testing anyway is a red herring, given the low positivist rates.

    • Wow what an argument. You dont believe in the quality of indian products but you put your trust in useless chinese products which have a 95 percent failure rate. Mind numbingly dumb and unpatriotic comment.

  15. SHRI Tharoor is a brilliant person and I wish he was the leader of congress (i) in Loksabha. Sir would you support compulsory family planning measures with strict population control measures through law.

  16. He waited long for the indian options but it was your leaders who pressurised the government to buy kits fast in order to increase testing. Don’t forget that Rahul is your party leader.

    • If you had bothered to read the article, it is clearly stated that SCIMST developed a testing kit, but inexplicably ICMR has been sitting on it for weeks .One has to wonder whether vested interests have come interplay to stop reaching the market.

  17. It’s well known that Congress has already sold out to China and Pakistan.
    Now the Congress spokesman is crying Wolf.
    Mr. Tharoor, who do you think you are trying to fool??

    • And who do you think you are trying to fool, by hiding nehind fake names like Jack Mohammad? No Jack Mohammad, Jack, or Mohammad would write such a comment.. So who are you, and who are your paymasters?

    • Good job, here’s 5 rupees for your trouble. You are behind on your 100 comments a day target though which you are paid to do so speed up!

  18. I think after demonetisation and now this lockdown it has become amply clear that implementation of decisions, planning and troubleshooting in non-political space is not this government’s strong point. The history is littered with instances of best decisions ruined owing to incompetence in their implementation.

  19. These Congressi idiots have really nothing in hand towards positive contributions to any problem except sermons, preaching without practice, endless suggestions without being able to fathom the nature of the problem, doing all kind of futile researches of -this could have been done..that should have been implemented etc., ignoring the views of the entire world spectrum including WHO that Indian Govt is the best so far in handling COVID – 19.
    Suddenly they appear to possess all wisdom and show off foolishly that they are so wise.
    These nincompoops have no mission, vision or positive plan of action to any kind of problem. Really the bankruptcy is at the lowest ebb in Congress. Spare them from lock down and they will flood the space with press conferences, Shahin bagh support, Tukde gang sympathy and probably illuminating Iftaar parties with Owessis, Pathans, Khans and Syeds with exemplary minority appeasement culture. Leave it to Sadhus lynching case, these Cong stooges, Buddhu jibis, sickulars, award wapsis, HR activists will be found immaculately in oblivion as if holed up in their place of birth and origin at ante natal stage.
    SHAME – SHAME – SHAME

    • Call out the government for its failed policies and the bhakts take you to the failed tukde tukde gang rhetorics. Guess who’s selling the nation? Purchasing Rs 35 crore failed test kits from China when the other countries clearly rejected them much before.

      • Congress was trying to make political gain by shouting from rooftop for rapid test. Only China had the capacity to supply. No other nation has surplus kits. GOI would not have gone for kits from China but for chest beating by Congress.
        Congress should be ignored in future for its stupidity and actions detrimental to national interests.

        • Wrong, Pankaj. We could have ordered South Korean kits which have a better success rate and quality. Why is ICMR not approving domestic kits, have you thought about that? Doubt it.

      • o yeah, failed policies, indeed. ask your pappy whose failed policies has landed India in a ditch and now has to be pulled out.

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