From the Viewsroom

Institutional collapse

Poornima Joshi | Updated on April 25, 2021

Bureaucracy must be held to account in India’s Covid surge

It is the opinion of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that the media’s job during the Covid-19 pandemic should be to create an atmosphere of “positivity, hope and trust”. Idealistic beginners in journalism schools will hopefully interpret that as the exact opposite of what their job actually entails. But the cautionary overtones in the statement from the ruling party’s ideological patriarch are a heartening indication that the media may perhaps be among the few institutions actually doing its job of speaking truth to power.

That cannot be said for many, especially in the context of the country’s abysmal lack of preparedness for a second surge in Covid-19. Even if one attributes the ruling party’s political resolution passed in its national executive meeting on February 21 — which declared that the BJP, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has “defeated Covid” — to lack of awareness of the political class, surely this excuse is not available to the scientific community, the research institutions and the bureaucracy.

Former Health Secretary K Sujatha Rao’s horror at the dual pricing mechanism for vaccine procurement by the States underscores the bureaucracy’s ineptitude. Barring Hepatitis-B vaccine, the government has never procured any vaccine above ₹200. All the 14 vaccines under the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) are available at different prices in the market but for the Government set-up, the prices are controlled. Besides, there are visible gaps in availability.

For a country that has vaccinated over a 100 million children against polio over three days or so, the confusion over assuring quantities and fixing prices with respect to the Covid-19 vaccine is inexplicable. It is surely the result of the bureaucracy not using its institutional memory and preparing adequately. The same goes for the scientific community. Given the near universal experience of the second wave, why was the ICMR, NIV or premier scientific research institutions not raising red flags? If they were, as autonomous bodies they should have been loud enough to be heard.

Published on April 25, 2021

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