No crisis should be politicised: Mandaviya hits out at Oppn
- Mandaviya was replying to the discussion on the pandemic in Rajya Sabha, where MPs criticised the government’s handling of the second wave of infections, the medical oxygen crisis, and problems with the vaccine drive.
New Delhi: Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya, who took over following a Cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, accused Opposition leaders in Parliament on Tuesday of politicising the pandemic by criticising the government’s Covid-19 response and appealed for all states to come together to avert a third wave of infections.
Mandaviya was replying to the discussion on the pandemic in Rajya Sabha, where MPs criticised the government’s handling of the second wave of infections, the medical oxygen crisis, and problems with the vaccine drive.
“In the discussions so far, it is seen that anything good that happened in managing the pandemic, the members say it was due to the efforts of the local state government and the chief minister, but for anything that went wrong, the fault was with the Modi government,” said Mandaviya in his response.
The minister heaped praise on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, listing out steps taken in the early days of the pandemic as well as over the past year.
He responded to some specific allegations, saying the Union government followed the demand of the states on vaccines when they wanted to procure directly, and repelled criticism over vaccines.
“Some were asking why did India put a lockdown in March last year. India put a lockdown in order to ramp up vast medical infra. Lockdown was meant to prepare against the helplessness we saw in other countries,” he said.
“But we are not complaining,” he added. “We must not forget that no crisis should be politicised. PM Modi has said in the past that when 1.3 billion people work together and take a single step on any issue, it means the country is going ahead with many steps -- in a crisis situation it always helps to move ahead together,” he said, appealing for everyone to work together.
“When vaccination was launched, there was misinformation. We also must remember that vaccines had shelf life of six months – how could it be that we didn’t use it, and we shouldn’t give it to others,” he said, addressing criticism that the government gave away doses, which led to a shortage.
“We gave vaccines because we had doses that were expiring, because we believe in the motto that the world is a family,” he said.
Mandaviya also said that several Indian companies were stepping up production of doses and India could also have access to new vaccines in coming months. “Zydus Cadila and Bharat Biotech have started trials on children. I expect their trials to be successful. We need to trust our scientists. I trust my scientists and indigenous companies,” Mandaviya said, while adding that Serum Institute of India has become supplying 110-120 million doses a month and Bharat Biotech is expected to supply 35 million in August.
Earlier, opposition members of the Upper House questioned the government’s preparedness and called for better coordination with the state governments.
Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Manoj Kumar Jha said the government machinery entirely failed in taking appropriate steps during the second wave, and added that the crisis was the result of continuing disregard for health care “from 1947 till now”.
“For one-and-a-half months, the whole country lived through a nightmare... Even MPs were not heard, what of the common man?” he said. “We witnessed undignified death, the next generations will not forgive us,” he added.
Shantanu Sen of the Trinamool Congress said that during the second wave, there were bodies filling up at cremation and burial grounds. “Please make sure in the third wave, bodies don’t pile up on the street,” he said.
“Lancet, the oldest medical journal, World Health Organization, the Supreme Court and several high courts, and even countries like Brazil, Canada and the UK have categorically criticised the Covid fighting policy of India. What can be more shameful for us,” he added.
Tuesday’s was the first time the Covid-19 crisis was discussed in parliament following the devastating second wave of infections in April-May.
Leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge said the government’s Covid-19 death toll figure of 400,000-500,000 is “false” and conservative, and claimed the average number of deaths cannot be less than 5.2 million.
The Congress alleged that Modi “failed” in tackling the pandemic and made former health minister Harsh Vardhan a scapegoat.
“There are about 638,565 villages in the country. Even if there were five Covid-19 deaths in a village, the total death toll would have been 3,191,825,” he said. “There are 7,935 urban cities, even if you take 10 deaths in each city, the toll would have been more than 793,500. Similarly, there would have been an estimated 360,000 deaths in 19 metros. On an average, it comes to 52.43 lakh deaths. It cannot be less than this. Still, they (government) say it is only 4-5 lakh. They keep saying this,” Kharge added.
As Kharge’s remarks drew angry protests from the treasury benches, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma urged them to allow the debate to take place. “A serious topic is being discussed. The ruling party should listen patiently. When you speak, we will also listen patiently. This is not the right way of debating,” Sharma said.
Mandaviya addressed this point in his reply and said death figures are provided by states and the Union government merely releases it.
On cooperation between the Centre and the states, Mandaviya said the “PM met the State heads some 20 times, to ask for their feedback regarding how the pandemic can be best tackled, and drafted measures accordingly”.
The minister said a package of over ₹23,000 crore has been approved for strengthening the health infrastructure, including setting up 24 million hospital beds and 20,000 ICU beds with a special focus on paediatric care to handle any possible third wave of the pandemic.
Mandaviya also said that the government has taken several steps to enhance manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines in India.