By Dr. Arun Mitra
In his address to the nation on 20th October the Prime Minister warned the countrymen not to let loose the precautions against Corona Virus and that till there is a medicine we cannot be careless towards this virus. Therefore precautions like using masks, maintaining physical distance, washing and sanitising hands must continue. These small measures can protect a person from catching the corona virus infection.
This time his address to the nation was different from previous speeches. It seems that the Prime Minister has now realised that fight against COVID-19 cannot be won in 21 days as he had said in the telecast on 25th March when he had compared the fight against COVID – 19 with the Mahabharata and declared that Mahabharata war was won in 18 days but we will defeat Corona in 21 days. Later on he had asked the people of the country to bang thaalies, to clap taalies and sound shankhs in the hope that this will help in getting rid of the corona. It seems he has realised that these are not the ways because science is not ‘Jumlebaazi’. Science is based on evidence and truth. Probably he has also realised that gau mutra or the cow dung is not a cure even though he never said a word against such absurd utterances from the mouth of several people in the hierarchy of his own ruling party.
His warning is also contrary to his saying in the month of July that we will be able to produce a vaccine against COVID by 15th August which he wanted to use for political ends. Under his pressure the Director of ICMR Dr Balram Bhargav repeated the same for which he had to face sharp criticism from the scientific community. He surly has knowledge about the process of vaccine production. The WHO has now started saying that the healthy young people may have to wait till 2022 for the vaccine as the vaccine will be first given to vulnerable section of the people which include the medical personnel, the elderly or those with co-morbid conditions.
The biggest exercise that we have taken recently for vaccination is the vaccine against Polio which was given to under 5 children and whose population is about 15 per cent of the total population which means it is about 20 crore. But vaccinating the whole population of the country is quite a horrendous task and we have to create a big infrastructure for this because for COVID vaccination has to be given to all the population. It is also not yet clear for how long and how much immunity the vaccination will provide?
But what the Prime Minister missed in his address to the nation are two reports which have come out recently. One is the poor Hunger index of our country which is at 94 out of 107 countries. Our neighbouring countries including Nepal at 73, Bangladesh at 75, Pakistan at 88 and Sri Lanka at 64 have fared better in this index even though their economy is poorer than ours. Even in the data about COVID-19 our indices are poor compared to our neighbouring countries in South Asia. According to the World Meter on Corona Virus the death rate per 10 lakh as on 23rd October for India is 84, Pakistan 30, Bangladesh 34, Nepal 27, Sri Lanka 0.6. The strict lockdown has seriously affected our GDP growth which fell as low as -23.9. As per IMF the GDP growth in Bangladesh has been 3.8%, Pakistan -0.4% , Sri Lanka -4.6%, Nepal 0.0% .
The report which has released the hunger index also says that 14 per cent of Indian children are malnourished. It is expected that hunger problems and malnourishment will be felt not only among children but also among expectant mothers.
During the suddenly imposed lockdown we have seen thousands of people going to their native places hundreds of kilometres away on foot or bicycles or by rickshaws and other means. Many of them died of hunger or accidents on the way; a group of people were even run over by the train. These are all young men and women which need to be cared for by our Country. It would have been appropriate if the Prime Minister had said a word of empathy for those but he failed to do so. Perhaps this is his normal behaviour. As we see that after demonetisation also when hundreds of people including the elderly and the erstwhile Army men died standing in queues, he did not utter a single word of sympathy for their families.
To accept mistakes does not make one small. It rather raises his or her image in the eyes of people about person’s moral values and moral strength. Statesmanship and grandiose obsession are two different things.
It is high time that we look at our policies. There is rapid increase in unemployment. Workers are losing jobs or their livelihood; many of them in the unorganised sector are getting underpaid. Farmers are agitating out of fear that with the new laws are implemented they will land up into starvation. Their fears are not unfounded. Workers are also agitating against the new laws passed in the Parliament which are against the workers’ interests. These laws according to them will leave them no security of job and will leave them at the mercy of the employer.
This is not the time of rhetoric since science is not Jumla. Science is evidence based searching for truth. Let us find the truth behind our woes. Let us look for why under 14 children are under nourished in our country when we claim to be a growing economy very fast. Our richest man is now 4th richest in the world, meaning thereby there is no dearth of money but where is the money for the poor downtrodden hard working people of this country? We have to care for their health, we have to care for their nutrition when they are better nourished they will have better brains and work to make the country better. (IPA Service)