The monk who sold lies and got away with it — but for how long?

The monk who sold lies and got away with it — but for how long?

The administrative elite in Uttar Pradesh are indifferent to poor people’s deaths due to Covid and they have no intention of scaling up the infrastructure.

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Scores of bodies lying uncovered, unclaimed, rotting along the banks of river Ganga—some face down on sand, some half-submerged in water, others half-buried, some laid bare by the shifting sand after a heavy downpour. Yet Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath can’t smell the stench of this absolute horror brought by his inept government. It seems the CM, who himself has...

Scores of bodies lying uncovered, unclaimed, rotting along the banks of river Ganga—some face down on sand, some half-submerged in water, others half-buried, some laid bare by the shifting sand after a heavy downpour. Yet Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath can’t smell the stench of this absolute horror brought by his inept government.

It seems the CM, who himself has recovered from Covid not too long ago, is yet to regain his sense of smell. But he definitely continues to taste unbridled power. On Sunday, the CM asserted that his state was able to arrest the second surge of Covid-19 and was prepared to face the challenge of the imminent ‘third wave’.

“We defeated the first wave, have got a grip on the second and are well prepared to face a third one as and when it comes,” he was quoted as saying by various media outlets.

The very next day, he accused the opposition of creating panic and fear instead of increasing the confidence of people and health workers.

However, those who are suffering directly because of such blatant lies are not blind to the Yogi government’s excesses. Popular anger against his government’s ham-handed handling of the second wave of coronavirus is intensifying. It has not only led to major reverses for the BJP in the recent panchayat polls in the state, but is also crystallising into a growing dissent within the state BJP.

None other than BJP state president Swatantra Dev Singh, a Kurmi strongman and leader of the OBC lobby in UP BJP, openly admitted to the failure of the state administration in addressing the spread of the pandemic to rural areas.

Union Minister Santosh Gangwar and BJP MLA from Aligarh Dalveer Singh, a Thakur like Yogi, wrote open letters to Adityanath about the lack of availability of oxygen, beds and medicines in UP hospitals.

After the death of UP BJP MLAs Suresh Srivastava and Ramesh Diwakar due to Covid-19, many other BJP MLAs and leaders have criticised hospital conditions in the state.

The National Human Rights Commission has asked the Uttar Pradesh government to ensure disposal of the dead with rights and dignity following the emergence of bodies in Ganga and Yamuna

Unfazed by the scale of the pandemic and the serious criticism from his own backyard, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister is of the opinion that the situation is getting better.

“The second wave, all of a sudden, presented a challenge before the state as well as the entire country. The situation is under control now. Over the last 10 days, active cases in the state have gone down,” he said recently in Ayodhya.

To spite rival Dalveer Singh and mute criticism from the middle classes, Adityanath resorted to an unusual gesture of visiting the Aligarh Muslim University on May 13, which he used to criticise earlier as a bastion of minorities militancy. There he condoled the death of 16 professors and other university staff due to Covid-19, and promised to increase the medical supplies including oxygen.

When a PIL calling for an audit of oxygen and medicine supply in Uttar Pradesh came up for hearing in Allahabad High Court on May 12, the state government sought its dismissal under the pretext that the HC was already hearing a suo moto case on the Covid-19 management in Uttar Pradesh. However, dismissing the government’s plea, the HC directed the state to respond to the allegations of mismanagement in availability of oxygen, beds and medicines, signalling a virtual take-over of the reins of Covid-19 management in the state.

Yogi being the Yogi, in an indirect rebuttal of the Allahabad HC, said in an online interaction with journalists on April 24 that there was no oxygen shortage in any hospital in the state, private or public.

But the number of tweets from UP citizens appealing for oxygen for near and dear ones was running into thousands. Newspapers carried numerous reports of deaths due to lack of oxygen.

Prominent private hospitals in UP, including the famous Mayo Hospital in Lucknow, displayed signboards this month saying patients could not be admitted due to lack of oxygen. Grappling with a huge spike in cases, Yogi himself had to impose a full lockdown from April 30 to May 17.

Why this mismatch between the Chief Minister’s claim and the reality in UP?

Health infrastructure shortage 

As per the estimates of the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP), Uttar Pradesh has around 2.75 lakh hospital beds (75,000 in public sector hospitals and 2 lakh in private hospitals).

The government appears to have adopted an undeclared policy decision not to admit all cases with Covid-19 symptoms in government hospitals and test them. Most of these cases are advised home isolation. The government hospitals are admitting only serious cases.

But they are unable to treat them. This is because Uttar Pradesh government hospitals, in all, have only 4,000 ICU beds (and the ICU beds in private hospitals also total 10,000 only). And government hospitals have only 2,000 ventilators (and private hospitals have around 5,000 ventilators only). Normally, once the ICU beds were fully occupied, new vacancies for ICU beds arose only at a rate of around 100–200 a month, but now the serious cases in queue run into tens of thousands.

Despite an overall decrease, on May 11, as many as 18,125 fresh cases and 329 deaths were reported and there were 2,06,615 active cases. Even this is gross under-reporting because Uttar Pradesh Additional Chief Secretary, Health, Amit Mohan Prasad also claimed that 1,52,725 fresh cases were under home isolation. Did he mean to say the rest of the cumulative active cases in UP with institutional care were only around 52,000?

If we go by the Centre’s figures on the share of Covid-19 cases requiring oxygen support, ICU beds and ventilators, Uttar Pradesh would require 3,616 ICU beds, 826 ventilators and 8,237 instances of oxygen support for the given number of active cases. If this is the requirement, will not the health infrastructure in UP be more than adequate?

“Why then is there an acute crisis in UP? Why do we hear of so many deaths due to shortage of oxygen, hospital beds, ventilators and even medicines in government hospitals? If such a basic thing like oxygen is not available, of what use is an ICU bed or a ventilator,” a government doctor expressed his exasperation with the government to The Federal.

Thanks to the rising popular anger and the arm-twisting by the Allahabad High Court, on April 25, the UP officials set up a digital online oxygen monitoring system. But it offered no facility for registration by those who are in need and the government did not regulate oxygen distribution to users at government-regulated price based on a wait-list and the seriousness of the given case.

Rather, it only negotiated with oxygen tanker owners/operators in other states and struck deals for 40 of them for oxygen transportation in the state. Including the tankers from outside and 4 tankers brought by the Railways, only 58 tankers are presently running in the state. Considering the vast geographic spread of the state, this number is still inadequate. That’s why we see a large number of SOS requests from hospitals from different remote areas of rural UP appearing on the official UP monitoring site itself.

These facts themselves belie Adityanath’s claim on April 24.

Bogus monitoring campaign sans testing

The UP government launched a special Covid-19 monitoring campaign in 97,000 of the 107,440 revenue villages in the state under which health workers did door-to-door investigation for people with Covid-19 symptoms.

The state health secretary claimed that under this campaign, 4,00,000 people with symptoms had been identified. But he never bothered to explain why they were not tested and health workers merely checked for symptoms. Testing was not up to the desired level in UP too.

The secretary, however, claimed that on May 11 alone 2,45,986 samples were tested. He also claimed that so far, cumulatively, the state had conducted 4,36,51,487 tests. But he never revealed the positivity rate and why there was no synchronisation with spikes in cases and hospitalisation rate.

Health infrastructure is not being expanded on a war-footing in UP, resulting in more deaths. A scene from a cremation ground in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Vaccination crisis and crackdowns

Vaccination too has almost come to a grinding halt since May 1. This is because vaccine kits are not coming from the Centre and vaccine manufacturers and the main distributors have formed a cartel and are refusing to supply vaccines to small private hospitals whereas they are supplying vaccines only to big corporate hospitals, which pay them a premium. The bureaucracy in Uttar Pradesh seems to be insensitive to the basic fact that the increase in vaccination would go a long way in bringing down the number of new cases.

On the other hand, bureaucrats in UP are using all their energy to crack down on critics. Journalist Manoj Singh of Gorakhpur Newsline told The Federal that an ambulance driver Vicky Agrahari of Jaunpur, who brought a patient to the government hospital, tried to save about a dozen patients who were gasping for breath lying outside the hospital with the oxygen cylinder available in his ambulance. This was highlighted by the media since Jaunpur also happens to be Yogi’s district. As a result, officials filed cases against the ambulance driver under IPC Sections 188, 269 and Section 3 of the Indian Epidemics Act 1897 on April 30 for trying to defame the government.

Health infrastructure is not being expanded on a war-footing in UP. Citing lack of resources from the state government, the Deoria DM even made a bizarre appeal to the public to donate for Covid-19 management by the district administration.

Richa Singh, one of the official spokespersons of the Samajwadi Party, told The Federal that Yogi Adityanath doesn’t acknowledge that there is a crisis. “So his government is not doing anything constructive to improve the health infrastructure.”

To cite only a few examples, in eastern UP, the number of active cases in Jaunpur is more than 5,000, in Ghazipur 5,439 and in Gorakhpur 9,483. The active cases in all the 17 districts of eastern UP would exceed 50,000. But there are only 2,000 beds earmarked for corona cases in government hospitals in the whole region.

The government has so far done nothing to increase the number of corona beds in any of the eastern UP districts though in more than one year the number of corona beds could have been more than doubled.

It is not that the top officialdom in UP wanted to improve the health infrastructure and failed to do that. It is not a case of failure. Rather, the administrative elite are indifferent to poor people’s deaths on a genocidal scale and they have no intention of scaling up the infrastructure. Going beyond health sector reforms, Uttar Pradesh requires a different order of social reforms.

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