A national calamity is not the time for a political attack. It is time to stand by the government. But when the sheer ineptitude and stubbornness of the government endangers the safety of people, it becomes important to seek accountability. Asking questions is a responsibility.
Uddhav Thackeray government has failed to handle the coronavirus situation in Maharashtra, so, it is important that the central government brings in the Army to handle the slums of Dharavi and Govandi in Mumbai. If proper protocols are followed, these areas might require up to 10 lakh tests — the state government looks unprepared to handle it, or its aftermath.
The Maharashtra Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP coalition government’s inability to get its act together even after a month has put the city of Mumbai at grave risk.
Is there an official war room at all in Maharashtra to manage Covid-19? Has Thackeray pulled up the home minister Anil Deshmukh in the wake of his unending failures? Is Mumbai entirely outsourced to the BMC? Is the CM being updated at all by the health minister? (By the way, both home and health ministries are with NCP). Moreover, how many of the state ministers have visited the districts that are assigned to them as guardian ministers or have they treated the lockdown as a holiday?
Considering that even 40 days after the detection of the first Covid-19 case in Mumbai, the state government is struggling to get its act together, there is a growing sentiment among the informed classes that Army deployment in the slums of Dharavi and Govandi is needed to save Mumbai.
Let me explain with hard facts.
How the numbers add up
Let us look at the latest Covid-19 figures from Mumbai as on 15 April.
With 1,936 cases distributed pretty much equally across the city, and with the slum clusters of Dharavi and Govandi emerging as the new hotspots, anyone who knows Mumbai even remotely would know the damage the city is staring at. Worli, with nearly 400 cases, by the way, is Aaditya Thackeray’s constituency.
What makes the situation intriguing is the unabated, relentless rise of new containment zones after 24 days of lockdown (Maharashtra has been lockdown since 22 March), which obviously makes a mockery of lockdown compliance.
Maharashtra and Kerala were nearly at the same level two weeks ago. Now, as Maharashtra struggles, Kerala has been able to successfully flatten the curve.
Now, let us look at the critical components – medical preparedness and lockdown effectiveness in combating the coronavirus and how they failed miserably in Maharashtra.
Maharashtra now accounts for 23.9 per cent of the total Covid-19 cases in India and 44.3 per cent of the total Covid-19 deaths. In fact, the mortality rate in Maharashtra (6.5-7 per cent) is higher than the global average (3.4 per cent).
Considering that Mumbai is equipped with better medical facilities than most other parts of India, there could only be two plausible reasons for the high mortality rate in the city. One is poor medical preparedness in hospitals to fight Covid19; the other is perhaps a much higher number of undetected cases.
Most hospitals chosen to treat Covid-19 patients were ill-prepared for it. The Covid-19 sections in the hospitals required foolproof segregation, which did not happen. Instead of getting all or most of Covid-19 patients under one roof or two, they were scattered across the city. This explains why one of the largest numbers of hospitals shut due to Covid-19 as well as a large number of infected medical professionals is in Mumbai.
In fact, a tweet by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor admonishing the Maharashtra government for “poor conditions” in isolation wards pretty much sums up the ground situation.
Despite the availability of adequate PPEs in Mumbai, the government has been unable to ensure that the PPEs reach the hospitals. Neither has it been able to provide proper security in Covid-19 hospitals. Even on 15 April, when India entered the second phase of lockdown, another unsavoury episode of mismanagement was reported from Juhu’s Cooper hospital.
Apart from the hospital challenges, as of today, three large police colonies in Mumbai stand sealed, demoralising the city’s police force.
The myth of more testing
It is important here to expose the Maharashtra government’s claims of “more testing than any other state”. As of Friday, the tests per million (TPM) people in Maharashtra is below Rajasthan and Kerala (among bigger states)and even below Delhi among the smaller states. At over 50,000 total tests in Maharashtra, the state has done approximately 17-18 per cent of total tests in India. But considering that the state accounts for 23.9 per cent of the cases in the country, this testing is low. More testing at this stage is a grave necessity, not choice.
But starting 12 April, testing protocols have been abruptly changed in Mumbai. Now, non-high-risk contacts won’t be tested. Considering that 65 per cent of Mumbai coronavirus patients have been asymptomatic, one can imagine the grave danger this alteration carries. It also goes against the guidelines of the ICMR.
Umpteen images and videos from across the city in the last three weeks attest that the lockdown has been shambolic.
Let us look at some more outrageous lockdown violations.
— A Thane engineer allegedly gets picked up by NCP workers on 5 April for a Facebook post. They take him to the house of NCP minster, Jitendra Awhad. There, the engineer is beaten black and blue, in the presence of Awhad’s police bodyguards. Two of the policemen, arrested for beating the man, have tested positive for Covid-19. The NCP councillor from Thane, Milind Patil has claimed that Jitendra Awhad had tested positive for Covid19, which, if true, means, that apart from unleashing violence, the minister, is also a ‘super spreader’. Has Uddhav Thackeray considered action against Awhad? Now reports claim Awhad has tested negative, while 14 people who came in contact with him have tested Covid-positive.
— The hasty and sudden permission given by principal secretary of the Maharashtra home department, Amitabh Gupta to 23 members of the Wadhawan family to travel to Mahabaleshwar during the lockdown, stands well exposed. Apart from the official having been sent on leave, no investigation followed.
— Let us not forget that a significant number of Tablighis from Maharashtra who attended the Nizamuddin markaz congregation have not been traced. Last week, Anil Deshmukh had claimed that 58 markaz attendees were incommunicado. This week he has claimed that 40 out of 58 have been traced. Considering Deshmukh’s credibility crisis, these numbers can be taken only with a pinch of salt.
— The massive migrant workers’ crowd outside Bandra station on 14 April, is mired in mystery. The fact that 3,000 people could congregate in the heart of Bandra when I have personally found it difficult to even step out to the grocers’ raises several questions. The fact that a similar congregation happened in Mumbra, the stronghold of Jitendra Awhad, and the fact that the arrested alleged instigator, Vinay Dubey, whose social media posts flaunt his proximity to NCP leaders, does not look coincidental. Equally shocking is a purported video from the site of chaos in Bandra where the migrant workers were supposedly being tutored to rebel.
The above incidents clearly show that CM Uddhav Thackeray has little or no knowledge of what his home minister or other cabinet ministers are up to.
The next few days are critical for Mumbai’s future.
The author is a writer and a national media panelist of the BJP. Views are personal.