New Delhi: Several ministers including Union Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, have earned the ire of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for what sources have described as the biggest “personal setback” that the government led by the Prime Minister has received ever since May 2014 in the wake of the sudden collapse of the Covid-19 health related infrastructure in Delhi-NCR, which comprises Delhi (through the LG), and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, where the BJP is in the driver’s seat.
The PM, sources said, believed that the multiple high-powered teams that also had the presence of several Union Ministers, that were given the responsibility to ensure a prepared response to Covid-19 were “doing their job”. According to sources, the concerned officials tasked with handling the Covid-19 crisis included members of the National Scientific Task Force on Covid-19, which was constituted in April last year and included “big” names like V.K. Paul of Niti Aayog, Principal Scientific Advisor K. Vijay Raghavan and top officials from ICMR, Department of Science and Technology, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, DRDO, Directorate General Health Services and Drug Controller General of India, did not meet even once in February or March this year, They met only once in the second week of January to take stock of the situation.
“They suddenly woke up to the crisis on 15 April and met for the first time since 11 January, but the damage was done by then,” a source added.
The latest surge, which started in April, with active Covid-19 cases crossing 2 lakh for the first time on 15 April, is expected to reach around 4-5 lakh cases per day in the coming weeks.
Sources who have knowledge of the inner developments of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), said that the PM was “extremely” unhappy over the way in which the dedicated multiple government machineries across different ministries that were set up to anticipate and course-correct any such mis-happenings were caught unawares and continued to claim that there was no crisis.
It was the brainchild of a “few” members of the empowered task force and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) to start a “tika-utsav” which, officials now say, shows how oblivious the MOHFW and task force members were of the surging health crisis that was staring at them.
Many of these high-profile members and the Union Minister for Health himself were till early this week coming in news channels every day to claim everything was all right even as Covid-19 patients were gasping for oxygen and bed and were dying.
An official cited the lackadaisical approach of the concerned ministers and officers while giving the example of the inexplicable delay in setting up the Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) Medical Oxygen Generation Plants inside public health facilities, which could have mitigated the loss of thousands of lives and face for India at the global level.
It is important to mention that the Health Ministry was asked by the Prime Minister in October itself to install at least 162 oxygen plants across India including 8 in Delhi, 14 in Uttar Pradesh, 3 in Chandigarh and 6 in Haryana. The money for the same was also immediately released from the PM CARES fund trust. However, not even 20% of the total decided plants have been set up till now by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which was made the autonomous body to execute this exercise.
Giving another example of “misplaced priorities”, the official said that a select few Union Ministers were more focused on how to create a media perception for the support of government by engaging in an independent “off the record” talks with selected journalists.
Sources said that the PM is also upset over the failure of the majority of party MPs and MLAs to come out in the open to help the common people. Most of them have gone into “detention” claiming Covid-19 infection. Independent reports that have reached the PMO however suggest that these representatives have retreated because of the overwhelming demands for beds, medicines and oxygen that they are receiving from people across their constituencies.
The PM, sources said, is unlikely to engage in any party centric activities in the coming weeks and focus on setting the “house in order”, as an official said.
The political repercussions of the recent series of fallacies by senior government officials and Union Ministers are likely to be seen in the coming days as the PM engages on two fronts—administrative course correction and fixing of accountability that will include sacking and shifting personnel and sending out a strong political message to regain the trust of the people. Intelligence agencies, who are tasked to keep an eye on the sentiments sweeping the country, have reported large-scale anger against public representatives and a strong organic anger against political entities. According to an official, the government was battling a very negative perception which will increase in the coming days as the infection spreads.
“The trust for the government is very low and naturally so. A series of actions, visible and invisible, is needed which are not ‘knee-jerk’. We have to be better prepared for the coming days,” an official said.