New Delhi: Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray, Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan, Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal and UP’s Yogi Adityanath are among the chief ministers who have hogged the headlines for their varied approaches in dealing with the coronavirus epidemic.
Even the low-profile Hemant Soren of Jharkhand has made his presence felt by publishing a toll free number in Delhi newspapers for migrants from his state stranded in the national capital.
But the chief minister most conspicuous by his absence is Bihar’s Nitish Kumar. The chief minister, with a reputation for being efficient, is now under fire in his home state, not only from the opposition but also allies within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
He has been accused of tardiness in tackling the Covid-19 crisis, particularly in not rescuing migrant labour from the state stranded in various parts of the country. For instance, the Bihar government only launched a helpline for its migrant labourers last Friday, four days after the national lockdown, but even that is not working.
The following day, on Saturday, five days after the lockdown was announced, the chief minister directed the Delhi resident commissioner and other prominent Biharis in the national capital to reach out to the migrant workers and defuse the crisis.
“When Yogi Adityanath has sent buses to bring labourers from the Delhi border and Yediyurappa provided concessions of five to six hours for migrant workers to leave Bengaluru, Nitish dumped Bihari workers at a critical time,” said former RJD MP Jai Prakash Yadav.
“Nitish has not sent buses to bring them back home nor has he provided relief material at their transit point. He has also only set aside Rs 100 crore from CM fund for the crisis while Kerala has announced a Rs 20,000-crore package. You can see the difference.”
Even the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), an ally of Nitish’s JD(U), has been unforgiving of the chief minister.
“We are receiving calls from Bihari workers from all over India. I personally spoke to the chief secretary but nothing significant was done last week,” Chirag Paswan, the LJP president and Jamui MP told ThePrint.
Paswan further singled out the chief minister for criticism. “I spoke to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to help migrant workers, but nothing happened for the first two days in the last week,” Paswan added. “I then spoke to Bhupendra Yadav (BJP’s Bihar in-charge) and Home Minister Amit Shah, who suggested I get in touch with the Centre directly if the workers face any problems.”
Paswan said that he has written six letters to the Centre, also addressed to Nitish, seeking help for those stuck in Delhi, Karnataka, Haryana and Gujarat.
Shortage of masks and PPE kits, ‘slow response’
The chief minister is also facing flak for the state of the healthcare facilities in Bihar.
Several resident doctors have been circulating videos online, claiming that there are no personal protection equipment (PPE) kits and N 95 masks for healthcare professionals.
Staff at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (IGIMS), a premier institute in Patna, even took to the streets demanding hand sanitisers, masks and PPE kits before treating Covid-19 patients.
Nitish has also been accused of not delegating work.
“PM Modi has urged states to constitute a prabhari mantri (cabinet minister in-charge of a district) to tackle the crisis,” said a Bihar BJP leader. “But in Bihar, Nitishji is doing everything with the chief secretary. The instructions have been to deposit relief material at the local police stations or district administrations. If the chief minister delegates work to his ministers, the situation can be handled better.”
The chief minister, however, has his defenders.
“The problem is the health infrastructure in Bihar — 90 per cent of the hospitals don’t have masks or protective gear and they are dirty,” a senior Bihar civil servant told ThePrint. “How can Nitish Kumar sort out such infrastructure in a day or two? All states are facing this problem.”
Another state BJP leader and an MP blamed it on the state’s civil servants.
“Nitishji’s response time was not slow but his officials acted slowly. He believes more in officials than the political leadership. That is his style of working,” the BJP leader said. “The impression he has given is that he is sitting in Patna and appealing to Biharis stranded elsewhere. Maybe he is sending a message that he is acting responsibly as PM Modi has called for a complete lockdown.”
Kejriwal created migrant worker chaos: JD(U)
But Nitish’s point-person and Bihar Water Resource Minister Sanjay Jha blamed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for the chaos in the national capital.
“Kejriwal was claiming in constant TV ads that he was providing food and shelter to four lakh people. Then why did he arrange DTC buses to carry 60,000 Biharis to the Delhi border? He had announced in the colonies that migrants would get buses to their respective states at the Delhi border.”
Jha also defended the chief minister.
“Nitishji has been active from day one,” Jha said. “He called for a meeting on the coronavirus preparedness on 13 March soon after Holi when other states had not even woken up to the crisis. He wrote to the Centre to stop inter-state buses, the train service and flights on 22 March. The Centre stopped these services accepting Nitishji’s suggestions.”
“He is an introvert and not pompous like Kejriwal. Getting migrant workers through special buses triggers the spread of the disease and creates more problems,” Jha added.
He further said the chief minister was monitoring the situation every few hours.
“Relief has been provided to 5,000 people. Around 1,80,000 people have been brought back to Bihar in the last 10 days,” Jha said. “The government is keenly monitoring migrant workers through the Garuda app. We have also established 78 quarantine centres at the borders with Uttar Pradesh, Nepal, Bengal and Jharkhand.”