CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, who wrote two letters recently to Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticising the Centre’s measures to fight Covid-19, said in an interview to BusinessLine that the lockdown was implemented without any preparations. Pointing to the plight of migrant workers, he said the Centre has not made any arrangements for giving even foodgrains to the poor. Excerpts:

How do you see the present situation after four days of shutdown?

The situation is very chaotic and dangerous. The purpose of the lockdown was to contain the community spread of the disease. But without making proper arrangements for migrant labourers to return home or staying where they are — like Kerala is doing by giving them shelter and food — the Centre has created a situation where lakhs of people are moving together defeating the very purpose of the lockdown.

Proper arrangements should have been made for sending foodgrains and other materials to their localities. There are reports that many trucks with essential supplies are stuck at various State borders as cross border transportation has also been prohibited by many States. These are problems that require immediate solution. Even when they reach the States for distribution, a proper plan should be there on how to deploy these foodgrains to people who are entitled to it. This needs to be done very urgently.

What is the lesson the country must learn from such an unprecedented scenario?

The first lesson is — what we have been saying for many years now — that we require to put in place a public health system and to achieve the slogan that this government has been giving, health for all, the first step is universal access to public health. That would require the government to increase its spending on public health exponentially. The Central government today spends less than two per cent of GDP on health. This is an abysmally low ratio compared to the global and what many other countries were doing. This situation has now brought the urgency for such a thing to be done on a war footing.

Health professionals do not have basic protective gear. There are not enough testing. Once an infected person is admitted to the hospital, unless they have proper isolation arrangements, the whole hospital is at risk. So, proper protective kits should be provided to all healthcare workers. Proper isolation arrangements must be set up and testing facilities should be increased.

How do you see the role of the private sector? Many countries have strengthened the governmental control over healthcare infrastructure.

We have been saying for decades that privatisation of public health is going to prove very costly. Unfortunately, now that is very clear. Spain has taken an ultimate step of nationalisation of healthcare. In many other countries, private healthcare providers, have been asked by governments to take part in the efforts to contain the pandemic. In India, the government should issue similar orders on humanitarian grounds.

World over, the super rich have come forward to donate and contribute in this fight against this pandemic. Supposedly there are 112 super billionaires in India. We expect them to come over similarly. Also, the need for a systemic change is underscored in a very alarming manner. We will have to sit down and work out. But the immediate priority for everybody is to protect ourselves.

You had written to the Prime Minister on such issues. What was the government’s response?

We don’t understand why this government is not ready to discuss such issues with the Opposition. Some State governments are doing this. I have written two letters on this to the Prime Minister. I have not got any invitation for a discussion or consultation. We, the CPI(M) has offices and people in all parts of the country. We are prepared. We are prepared to provide our cadre and offices in the fight against Covid-19.This is a national calamity. All of us have to defeat it together.

On the other hand, we have heard about police high-handedness. I saw reports of police lathi charging poor people who are actually starving.

This is not acceptable even on the grounds of human error. The authorities must correct this. Some administrative direction must be given like the Kerala government did.