India covid wave
COVID-19: In New Delhi makeshift funeral pyres are being organised as India's capital city runs out of space to cremate its dead Image Credit: Reuters

“Your institution is singularly responsible for the second wave of COVID-19. Your officers should be booked for murder charges probably.” This has been the most scathing indictment of the COVID mismanagement in India to date, as the Madras High Court ripped into the Election Commission over its unfathomable spread-out of election schedule in the midst of a raging pandemic.

The Chief Justice further asked the body, ”Were you on another planet when the rallies were being held?”

It is a question countless Indians have been asking again and again as families plummeted into an abyss of mourning and fear while rallies in West Bengal continued, with the politicians often without a mask.

India’s Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan may still be insisting- as recent as on Monday- that there is no need for a ‘crisis of confidence’ as there is no ‘alleged shortage of diagnostics and drugs’, but the helpless people seeing friends and family gasp unsuccessfully for oxygen know otherwise.

Recent op-eds on India Second wave

Voicing the anger and frustration of the citizens have been at least 11 high courts in the country — as distant as Allahabad to Sikkim, questioning everything from why things were not planned in advance to admitting feeling ashamed themselves.

“We are calling it a wave, it is actually a tsunami … we will hang that man, we will not spare anyone.” This was the Delhi High court’s warning over obstruction in the supply of oxygen as the country faced its toughest test yet. Hospitals after hospitals red flagged their depleting stock, counting down the hours before they lost the battle and their patients, their lives.

These were some of the relentless headlines this week:

“At least 20 people dead in a Jaipur hospital with severe oxygen crisis”

“24 patients dead in Nashik after a tanker leaked outside the hospital, disrupting supply for half an hour.”

“Amid the oxygen crisis, 25 patients die at Delhi’s Gangaram hospital.”

The Emperor’s new clothes

Oxygen is part of the basic health care kit, as a country today we have been exposed as a mere pretender to the superpower tag, the much- touted bullet trains the cake to our healthcare’s bread.

The central vista project, the grand legacy of the government at the cost of 20,000 crores also continues, construction workers have been sighted at the site despite the lockdown. The project has been declared an emergency service. These days I often remember the book I read as a child, The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Meanwhile, the capital of the country looks like a sprawling mortuary, many other cities have also been ravaged and are struggling to breathe. Amid the burning pyres, doctors breaking down and hospitals begging courts to help with oxygen, there is one common emotion-anger.

As the biggest modern- day crisis continues to unfold in India, there has been no accountability, no heads have rolled and nor is there a sense of urgency still visible. In 1956, Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned as the Railways Minister after the death of 144 passengers in a train accident.

Jawahar Lal Nehru, much reviled today by the faux nationalists accepted that resignation. Today after almost 3,000 deaths daily the government’s response is to shut down tweets that reflect the real picture or write letters to international newspapers that have condemned the centre’s handling of the crisis.

After spreading fake news on Coronil, having absolutely no control over his country’s health- with 1,97,880 people dying on his watch, or his letter writing skills, Dr Harsh Vardhan continues to hold on to his chair.

Dr Manmohan Singh wrote a letter with suggestions on how to ramp up the response and was promptly trolled by the Health Minister. The former and dignified Prime Minister was slammed for “spreading negativity”.

Not only did Dr Singh test positive the next day, but the government accepted his suggestions. Harsh Vardhan is not the only one responsible though.

Spike in cases everywhere

The Home Minister was seen finally taking a break for his no mask policy for one day when he cut the red ribbon for an oxygen plant, this when citizens were sharing oxygen cylinders lying on the floor of hospitals. Incidentally in Kolkata - a city around which he has spent much of his last several weeks- doctors say every second person testing is now positive.

Minister Smriti Irani was proudly showcasing brand new empty facilities for patients who may not have crumbled if these beds were available earlier. There is a difference in obsessing over the power of elections and running a country.

‘Atmanirbharta’ that much hyped slogan in a long list of rambling slogans has already been tossed on its head as oxygen gets exported from countries like Germany and the first batch of ventilators and concentrators have been dispatched by the UK. Even tiny Bhutan is dispatching oxygen to India.

The government now says that funds will be used from the PM Cares Fund- a fund that has RTI exemption and zero transparency- for the setting up of 551 Pressure Swing Absorption medical generation oxygen plants. The question will always be asked, why so little, so late?

Forget accountability, the numbing tragedy that is unfolding hasn’t got rid of defiance and bluster. Death tolls are heavily underreported and by most accounts our real death numbers will be shocking. Those who report the reality are being damned for painting a ‘negative’ picture of the country.

Reports from Gujarat say that figures from government hospitals in Surat and Ahmedabad reveal numbers much higher that what is being reported by the health authorities in the state.

The crematoria in both these cities have added new furnaces to run 24/7. The Uttar Pradesh government has threatened with attaching properties if anyone writes negatively, or rather truthfully about the situation.

To ask questions even now is dissent even as the country runs out of places to cremate the loved ones.

And all along, the citizens continue to pay the price for the government prematurely first announcing victory and then refusing to stop campaigning while a country was bleeding. Whether it is politics or cricket, the blame always lies at the top.

An insensitive cricket board

A defiant BCCI also says IPL will carry on. While I understand the need for distraction, it is a bit tough for many to reconcile happy high fives with so much death and pain all around. You can sense the hesitancy among the Australian cricketers, three of them have already exited the tournament on ‘personal reasons.’

Indian cricketers meanwhile stay in their bubble, embarrassingly Pat cummings donating to the PM Cares Fund for oxygen.

BCCI and the government both have one thing in common - they live in echo chambers.

The vaccinations are opening for all over the age of 18 by May 1, but where are the vaccines? Through this epidemic administrative, orders have seldom taken into account what our doctors have been saying.

Today the medical fraternity - doctors, nurses, helpers, attendants are all at the end of their tether, breaking down openly as they lose another life because of political callousness.

A patient who was in hospital for 6 days tells me that once the medical staff enters a COVID ward, they cannot leave till their duty is over, not even for a washroom break. Another doctor asks frustratedly, “what if there are no doctors left?”

It is going to get much worse before it gets better. As the saying goes in Urdu: Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin (This night has no dawn).