India's fight with COVID-19
India’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has been a case study in an inclusive, open and all-encompassing polity that has and will continue to yield great dividends in the midst of this unprecedented crisis; writes the Union Minister
Narendra Modi is credited for the fact that, probably, he is the first political leader who understood the importance of social media and leveraged it to the benefit of BJP in the 2014 elections and even thereafter he used this tool to get to motivate and to put straight facts before society in real-time. He also used radio with great effect to connect with the people through his most popular 'Mann Ki Baat' programme.
I can vouch that it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who could sense the danger of the coming Coronavirus Pandemic in December itself when China was infected. That time there were no cases in India. The first Indian patient tested positive on January 30 earlier this year but he used to tell us after every Cabinet meeting that Coronavirus and the infection would not stop in China. It will spread all over. It is serious and all are totally unprepared. Therefore, India needed to prepare itself. India started with screening the incoming international passengers and then made it universal and after few days itself, as the danger grew, air and rail travel was suspended. The doubtful travellers were kept in a facility of Ministry of Home Affairs at Manesar. At that time, we realised how grave the situation would be. From that day onwards he started implementing his plans to prepare India to fight COVID-19.
There was no concept of dedicated COVID hospitals. Today, we have nearly 700 dedicated COVID hospitals with 2 lakh plus isolation beds and 15,000 ICU beds.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) is aimed to save the doctors and staff who treat COVID patients. India had no such facility. So, the first big orders were given for imports. Nearly 10 million units were ordered. Now, in India, we have 39 factories manufacturing and stitching PPEs.
We were not manufacturing any masks, leave alone N95. Already 8 million masks have been distributed and in India, many new factories have started working on N95 masks as well as many small units have started preparing and stitching homemade masks for use of common people.
We had only one lab to test; in Pune. Our testing capacity was just 200 per day. Now there are nearly 300 labs to conduct tests and give results. Now we can test 20,000 plus tests a day.
Ventilators were few and far between, to the tune of 8,400. With initial orders, now we have nearly 30,000 ventilators. Already Indian manufacturers have started manufacturing ventilators and we expect to produce 30,000 ventilators domestically.
Simultaneously, he remained connected with the world, talked to various leaders, exchanged experiences learned from each other and implemented everything that he found useful. Simultaneously, he thought of the impending lockdown and its impact. Therefore, he declared a huge package of Rs 1,70,000 crores to protect the poor. India has the biggest food security programme under which all vulnerable classes and some more people totalling 80 crores who are given 5 kg of wheat/rice at Rs 2/3 a kilo. Now, for April, May and June, he decided to give 15 kg of rice/wheat plus 3 kg of dal free of cost for each person.
20 crore women from low-income groups were given direct benefit transfer of Rs 500 per month for the next three months in their Jan Dhan accounts. Further, 8.4 crore farmers were transferred Rs 2,000 in their bank accounts straightaway. Eight crore beneficiaries of Ujwala LPG scheme have been offered three cylinders free of cost. He offered the facility of withdrawal from Provident Fund to fight COVID and nearly 9 lakh workers have withdrawn nearly Rs 36 crores.
The Prime Minister also helped small businesses and workers together by promising that Provident Fund contribution of owner and worker will be deposited by Government for three months. This is also a huge amount. RBI has released liquidity of four lakh crore through various measures in Repo rates. The middle class was given facility for deferment of EMIs and other mandatory submissions.
The Central government also provided Rs 15,000 crores for dedicated treatment of COVID and released another Rs 11,000 crores as State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF). Further, another Rs 31,000 crore was released to help construction workers and all the states were asked to distribute them at the earliest. He ensured farm to market operation of agricultural commodities. Thereby, facilitating faster movement, more sowing, bumper crops and money being paid to the farmers at the earliest in order to ensure that the agricultural economy was restored to a state of normalcy.
The lockdown is a massive decision. It will never be successful until people participate voluntarily. The PM has been having continued dialogues with people. Poorest of the poor person also feels that the Prime Minister is working for their progress and he cares for them. So, he could prepare them psychologically for the long lockdown, suspension of activities and face the resultant hardship. He announced that on 22nd March, people will observe 'People's Curfew' – 'Janata Curfew'. In a country with 130 crore population, practically, 99 per cent of people observed it and made it a huge success. On that evening at five, he asked people to ring thalis, bells and clap for COVID workers working across the country. This helped motivate people to fight COVID-19 in unison and instilled discipline.
He also gave the simple four steps to safety:
To put on a mask;
To wash hands regularly;
To keep social distancing;
To stay at home.
By and large, people have observed this. Many sections of the society are in a learning curve and as its behaviour changes, after that, he asked people to light lamps for 9 minutes at 9 pm and the whole country participated enthusiastically. Even the slum dwellers and some homeless also lit the light. When asked about their participation, they said we are saved because of Modi so we will listen to him. He continued his dialogue in between. On May 3, a new innovative programme of saluting Corona Warriors from sky and water was a huge spectacle which inspired many more people.
Thus, the PM planned in advance, planned in detail, practised meticulously, communicated effectively, kept the world in the loop and, therefore, India could succeed in better managing the COVID-19 crisis than many other advanced economies.
The writer is the Union Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change; Information & Broadcasting; & Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises. Views expressed are strictly personal