Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has claimed that there is no public anger against the Bharatiya Janata Party over its handling of the coronavirus crisis. During a talk session with The Indian Express on Sunday, the BJP leader claimed that “anti-BJP forces” were trying to set a wrong narrative.

“There is a section in the country which does not like the popularity of the prime minister or the way he works, and they don’t spare any opportunity to defame the central government and the BJP,” he said. “This section is using the pandemic too for this purpose...So there are many powers who are against the thinking of the BJP and PM Modi is an eyesore for them… These anti-BJP forces are trying to create this narrative. The Prime Minister and Central government have done their best in handling the pandemic.”

When asked about the various media reports that pointed to an undercounting of the toll, Chouhan said problems were bound to arise when a pandemic of a large scale hits. “But the government has tried to do its best to deal with the pandemic...we are doing all we can to serve the people,” he added.

Asked about the discrepancy in the official Covid toll in Bhopal district compared to the data from the three crematoriums and one burial ground designated for Covid deaths, the chief minister said it could be because many did not get tested. “There may be cases where the person got ill but never came to hospital or did not get tested,” he told The Indian Express. “In the early days of the second wave, many people suffering from cold and cough took treatment from local doctors, not realising that it was Covid, and then eventually lost their lives… This could have caused the mismatch [in death numbers].”

Chouhan, however, admitted that the government’s “preparations fell short” when the second wave hit the country. “Everyone was convinced that there won’t be another wave,” he added. “The second wave hit us with such intensity that our preparations fell short. We were increasing beds in hospitals but there was shortage of oxygen and remdesivir.”

The Centre has been widely criticised for its handling of the Covid-19 crisis. India struggled with a grave oxygen crisis in the second wave of the pandemic. The acute shortages of the life-saving gas, medicines and beds forced families and friends of patients to plead for help on social media. Hospitals sent out SOS messages and even approached courts for relief as their oxygen stocks ran dangerously low.

Chouhan added:

“In the future, to deal with any kind of pandemic, we have to develop our health infrastructure – oxygen beds, ICU beds, childcare. We need a plan for everything and that is what we are doing now. Secondly, we need the support of the people to battle any pandemic…The people in villages have to take ownership, the government alone cannot do this.”

— Shivraj Singh Chouhan, The Indian Express

On oxygen crisis

Asked why the oxygen plant that Inox was supposed to set up in the state was not yet operational, the Madhya Pradesh chief minister recalled that the company said it would take six months. “We had told them to try and set up the plant in six months,” he told The Indian Express. “They had to import the plant. We kept mounting pressure on them to set up the plant but they said that it will be difficult to set it up in six months.”

At least six coronavirus patients died at a government hospital in Madhya Pradesh’s Shahdol district allegedly due to a shortage in oxygen supply in April.

Madhya Pradesh, with over 73 million people, was among the worst affected, partly because it barely has any oxygen production capacity of its own. Madhya Pradesh is entirely dependent on other states for the supply of medical oxygen. Over the past year, however, the state has done little to augment its own oxygen production capacity, and authorities have woken up rather late to the need to ramp up infrastructure.

But the Madhya Pradesh government is not the only one to have overlooked this localised solution for creating on-site medical oxygen capacity. Even the central government took eight months into the pandemic to float a tender for 162 PSA oxygen plants across India, of which only 33 plants have been installed so far, as a investigation revealed.

Also read:

  1. How grave is India’s oxygen emergency? Worse than the government admits
  2. Last ditch effort by MP to install oxygen plants shows even states failed to prepare for pandemic
  3. How many more lives could be lost in India’s oxygen crisis?

On vaccines

Chouhan added that states, if they are facing problems in procuring vaccines, should make a common appeal to the prime minister.

“Many times several states said that they should be given the freedom to get their vaccines,” he said. “When all states speak in different voices, it gets difficult to formulate one policy for vaccine distribution. I appeal to all states that [if they are facing problems in procurement], we can get together and make a common appeal to the Centre, to the prime minister, and then he can think it over.”

“Since the very beginning the Centre has given importance to vaccination and it is a matter of pride for all of us that our scientists displayed their prowess and we manufactured Covaxin and Covishield,” he said.

The government has faced criticism over its poorly-planned vaccination policy. Several states in India are struggling to vaccinate people due to an acute shortage of doses. Many of them have sought to procure vaccines through global tenders or by approaching manufacturers directly, but their efforts have yielded little success.

The states have been pressuring the Centre to procure and distribute vaccines instead of leaving the responsibility to them.

As the fourth phase of inoculation began on May 1, the Central government had announced a differential pricing for states, allowing them to buy vaccine doses on their own. Before that, the Centre was procuring and allocating vaccines to states.

In the latest roll out, however, the Centre took responsibility for sourcing only 50% of the doses for what has been categorised as the vulnerable population – those above 45 years, healthcare and frontline workers. This essentially means that vaccinations for all those below 45 years will have to be paid for by the states or by the citizens themselves. The Centre will not pay.

The new “liberalised and accelerated” strategy has been severely criticised. Vaccination rates have fallen steadily nearly every week since early April.

Also read:

  1. Is the Modi government admitting it messed up India’s vaccine policy just to spite the states?
  2. The Political Fix: Will pressure from the Supreme Court and states prompt a Modi U-turn on vaccines?
  3. Data shows India’s Covid-19 vaccination coverage has huge disparities among districts