New Delhi: Refuting criticism that its facing from the Opposition and the domestic and global media that the Indian government, at the highest level, lost its focus on India’s fight against Covid-19, government sources have pointed that eleven extensive and exclusive one-to-one meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and heads of different states and experts who have been tasked with handling the situation, took place from the beginning of June 2020, when the national lockdown was lifted, and till the end of March 2021, when the oxygen and hospital bed crisis hit the country in the wake of the surge in Covid-19 cases.
The PM held five such meetings with Chief Ministers of various states during this period, officials pointed out.
As per the documents, details shared by the officials, the first such meeting, post the lifting of the lockdown, was held on 13 June between Modi and senior Union ministers and officials to review India’s response to Covid-19.
This meeting was attended by Union Home Minister, Health Minister, Principal Secretary to PM, Cabinet Secretary, Health Secretary, DG ICMR and Dr Vinod Paul, member NITI, Convenor of the Empowered Group of Medical Emergency Management Plan.
One of the main points that was agreed at this meeting, officials said, was that the Union home minister and health minister should convene an emergency meeting with Lt Governor, Chief Minister of Government of NCT Delhi and officials of Municipal Corporations of Delhi to arrive at a comprehensive response to handle the challenge that was likely to be posed by rising cases of Covid-19, especially regarding hospital beds.
The official further stated that one more such meeting was held on 30 June, with key domestic elements that focused on the vaccination programme, was done by the PM. “Everything is on record and part of the minutes of the meetings that are to be recorded as per official process. The PMO was regularly advising, seeking suggestion from all stakeholders, sometimes more than once every month to tackle Covid-19 and the upcoming vaccination programme,” an official said.
However, no “convincing” response was shared by the official to the question raised by this newspaper that why then, despite these multiple interventions spread across 10 months from the PM and the PMO, the country is witnessing people dying on the roads due to lack of oxygen, essential medicines and hospital beds.
“It is clear that the officials and ministers down the line did not discharge their job as was expected from them. The PMO, and perhaps rightly so, has to take the responsibility of that,” the official said.
On 11 July, Modi attended a meeting that saw the attendance of Home Minister Amit Shah, Dr Harsh Vardhan, Member, NITI Aayog, Cabinet Secretary and other senior officials of Government of India to take stock of the Covid-19 situation in various parts of the country and the preparedness that was done by the various state governments. No such “exclusive Covid-19 related meeting’ was held in August and February 2021, documents revealed.
On 23 September, Modi met the Chief Ministers and health Ministers of seven states experiencing high number of cases that included Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. Subsequent to this meeting, it was announced that the limit of using the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) for Covid-19 specific infrastructure would be increased from 35% to 50% to help the state govts have more finances at their disposal.
Another high-level meeting involving the PM was held on 15 October to review vaccine deployment and contact tracing, required drugs and therapeutics.
Days later, on 17 October, Modi had another meeting with the Union Health Minister, Principal Secretary to PM, Member (Health) NITI Aayog, Principal Scientific Advisor, Senior Scientists, officers of PMO and other government departments to review the Covid-19 pandemic situation in country.
On 20 November, the Prime Minister attended a similar meeting to review the vaccine delivery, distribution and administration that was being put in place.
Four days later, on 24 November, Modi chaired a high-level meeting with Chief Ministers of all states and UTs to review the status and preparedness of Covid-19 response and management, with special emphasis on eight high focus states. These states were Haryana, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat and West Bengal. In this meeting, too, the modalities of Covid-19 vaccine delivery, distribution and administration were also discussed during meeting.
Officials said that on 4 December, the PM participated in an all-party meeting to discuss the Covid-19 vaccination strategy in India. The meeting was also attended by Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Nirmala Sitharaman, Narendra Singh Tomar other senior minister.
On 11 January 2021, Modi chaired a high-level meeting with the CMs and administrators of all states and UTs to review the status and preparedness for vaccination.