On May 10, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his daily virtual meeting with chief ministers, scientists, experts and doctors regarding the second wave of COVID-19 in India. He has been holding these meetings since early March when the Centre was warned against a deadlier resurgence of the coronavirus.
The Centre immediately informed the Task Force, which was set up last year, and has been working continuously to fight the virus. Mind you, the Modi government has been proactively preparing for the second wave.
Last year, 500 makeshift COVID hospitals were built across the country. Since this virus attacks the respiratory system, medical oxygen is an extremely important part of the treatment. The Modi government had realised this as early as last year and had built multiple oxygen generating plants in the country. India now has surplus oxygen and it is ensured that there is no glitch or delay in the supply to the states. In fact, the country is even exporting oxygen to help other countries.
What’s more, the Centre allocated big time funds to states and directed them to improve health infrastructure, recruit more doctors and nurses and other medical staff. The health budget was increased in 2020-21 and again in 2021-22, and India is now spending at least 5% of its GDP on health.
The cap on COVID-19 test prices and treatment expenses in private hospitals announced last March, continues. Last year, the government had nationalised 10 major private hospitals as it realised that the pandemic could lead to a humanitarian crisis if the health sector continues to be in private hands. Talks are also underway to nationalise more hospitals as part of the ‘Saksham Bharat’ programme announced by PM Modi after the spread of coronavirus. Under the programme, the Modi government is aiming to make India’s health sector completely public funded by 2023. To finance the programme, among other measures, the Union government has announced a 1.5% wealth tax till 2025 on the rich.
Not caring for its ideological moorings, the Modi government also cancelled all religious gatherings, and withdrew permission for holding the Mahakumbh Mela in Uttarakhand, which anyway was supposed to be held in 2022. PM Modi himself made a statement saying ‘religion should also respect human lives’.
In another landmark gesture, the prolonged farmers’ protests also ended as the Centre decided to withdraw the controversial farm laws until a consensus is reached with farmers. Within two days, the protest sites on Delhi’s borders were vacated as all protestors went back to their villages peacefully.
To prevent super-spreader events, the Election Commission deferred Assembly elections in four states and one Union territory– West Bengal,Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Puducherry. The EC’s decision was welcomed by the Modi government.
The Modi government, always accused of ignoring the Opposition parties, called for an all-party meet on jointly fighting the COVID-19 crisis. Among the Opposition parties’ suggestions, the Centre accepted the Left parties, pitching for Rs 7,500 cash transfer to all non-tax payer households as their livelihood had been affected by the pandemic-induced lockdown. The opposition parties also suggested that the government release food grains from warehouses and distribute it among people through ration shops without asking for ration cards. This suggestion was also accepted and implemented.
Now, India is in the process of vaccinating the population. The Modi government announced the ‘Free Vaccine for All’ programme in February 2021. After frontline workers, senior citizens and people with co-morbidities were vaccinated, the working class is also being given priority as its the most vulnerable.
At present, people of all age groups can get vaccinated in India. More than half of the country’s population has already received the first dose. The successful vaccine drive is akin to India’s fight against polio.
In another major decision to fund universal vaccination, the Centre also decided to stop the construction of its multi-crore dream project -- Central Vista-- till further notice.
Standing tall on the international stage, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has averted what could have been a colossal humanitarian crisis in India, such as the Bengal Famine or communal violence during Partition.
In Modi’s own 'golden' words: “All political agendas can wait but if we lose lives then we have failed as a nation’.