Two of Gujarat’s cities, Ahmedabad and Surat, have become tragic examples of how in this time of the coronavirus pandemic, people suffer more because of manmade mistakes than the virus itself. After a hard lockdown was announced in Ahmedabad, the coronavirus epicenter of Gujarat registered 269 new cases out of a total of 390 registered in the whole state. The total number of positive cases in the state reached 7,403 on 8 May evening. Ahmedabad accounted for 22 fatalities out of a total of 24 registered in the state in a single day followed by one in Surat, the second-worst affected city. The Centre reportedly directed Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s administration for course correction to contain the pandemic and manage the situation. The government roped in senior IAS officer Dr Rajiv Gupta, handing him overall charge of Ahmedabad city, and Pankaj Kumar, additional Chief Secretary, an efficient bureaucrat having excellent track record of handling crises, has been made in-charge to guide the state Health Department in checking Covid-19.
Trial and error therapy
Why is Gujarat feeling the brunt of Covid-19 mainly because of two cities? It is an example of mishandling of the government’s action plan and bypassing the strategic procedures by district officials. In Ahmedabad, doctors, medical staff, police, and officials worked hard, but couldn’t get results due to administrative lapses. There had been a lot of speculation among political and bureaucratic circles about the attitude and working style of Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner Vijay Nehra. Obviously, Nehra had to play a crucial role. In the beginning, he was appreciated for his hard work and proactive administration to control the pandemic, but later, he was criticised for his autocratic working style. He was not heeding to anyone. His ideological differences with mayor Bijal Patel was never a secret. There was no coordination and synergy in coronavirus management. Not only that, his critics allege that he had become media-obsessed and reduced himself to a spokesperson. Another senior burocrate Jayanti Ravi was overseeing efforts to check the corona outbreak, being a principal secretary of health department. She also made efforts initially, but gradually her main focus remained media briefing rather than doing her actual job. After 45 days of lockdown, the situation should have been improved, but it has worsened.
The state has miserably failed to manage the migrant crisis. There are nearly 15 to 18 lakh migrants settled in Surat alone. They are mainly from UP, Bihar and Orissa. Since the beginning of the lockdown, 6-8 migrant members stayed in a small room with limited facilities. They struggled for food, water and other basic amenities. Some reputed NGOs were willing to help, but there was no proper coordinating channels established by the local authorities. Officials could have involved industry and Union leaders to address the migrants’ issue. According to a video statement issued by Ashwini Kumar, Secretary to CM, more than 47,000 migrant workers left for their home states in 39 special trains. Gujarat has now transported 1.20 lakh migrant workers in 101 Shramik trains.
Discussion of leadership change becomes obvious during times like now. In the past, Keshubhai Patel was replaced by Narendra Modi and Anandiben Patel was replaced by Vijay Rupani on account of earthquake and Patidar andolan respectively. Similarly, in the case of Vijay Rupani, rumours have been circulating in political circles that Dr Mansukh Mandviya, Minister of state, Shipping (independent Charge) and Chemicals & Fertilizers, Govt. of India, is coming in his place, but he rejected it by tweeting without delay. BJP senior leader Dr Subramanyan Swamy also tweeted that Gujarat can be stabilised for coronavirus casualty numbers only if Anandiben Patel returns as CM. Vijay Rupani may not be a tough administrator like his predecessor Narendra Modi and Anandiben Patel, but the impression that he is a weak administrator is not true. The state government will have to set a good example of administration by plugging loopholes. Gujarat cannot afford manmade mistakes any more.
The writer is a veteran journalist and columnist from Gujarat and Consulting Editor of iTV Network.