The pandemic in Uttar Pradesh

A few visuals of the pandemic refuse to let you breath easily. One such visual is of 70-year old grey-bearded Tilakdhari Singh standing helplessly balancing his cycle in the middle of a deserted road in rural Jaunpur while the body of his deceased wife has fallen off the carrier.

Residents of Amberpur village, Singh’s wife had succumbed to the pandemic in a COVID 19 government hospital. When the villagers refused to allow cremation at the local crematorium the old man tried carrying the body to consign it to the Sai River. Midway he lost balance and the body fell off his cycle carrier.

The despondent husband helplessly standing besides his wife’s body, covered in a disheveled sari, presents a disturbing picture.

COVID-19 cases are multiplying at alarming pace in UP

Covid cases are multiplying at an alarming pace in Uttar Pradesh. It is difficult to say what is more outrageous, the increasing number of cases in Uttar Pradesh or the state government’s efforts to play it down projecting it as a minor irritant.

By the evening of April 30, the official figure was 310783 active cases and 12570 deaths. Around 34626 fresh cases have been reported in the last 24 hours and 332 deaths in the same period. The worst is the state capital Lucknow reporting 3958 fresh cases and 37 deaths within 24 hours.

As the health infrastructure collapses under the pressure desperate SOS calls inundate various social media platforms and help lines crying out for help for beds, oxygen cylinders, or medicines.

Responding to this public outcry, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, in a virtual interaction with editors claimed that there was no shortage of oxygen in private or government hospitals, and blamed the shortage on “black-marketeering and hoarding”.

Adding to the atmosphere of dread, CM Yogi said that he had asked officials to take action under the National Security Act and Gangster Act and “seize the property” of those spreading such rumors around oxygen outage and trying to “spoil the atmosphere”.

On April 21, CM Yogi prohibited the supply of oxygen to individuals “except for those in serious conditions”.

As per this order, the Amethi police instituted the IPC and Epidemic Act against Shashank Yadav of Amethi charging him of creating fear of a shortage among people. Yadav had tweeted “Need oxygen cylinder,ASAP” apparently for a 88-year old relative.

So far, the UP police has arrested 42 persons and recovered 239 oxygen cylinders and 688 vials of Remdesvir injections.

Some relief is expected from the April 30 Supreme Court order stating that there should not be any coercive action against any citizen for putting out an SOS call on social media seeking medical help for Covid.

The court strictly said that contempt action will be taken against police officers who clampdown on citizens who ventilate their grievances with respect to Covid in public platforms.

Taking suo moto cognizance Justice D Y Chandrachud observed, “If citizens communicate their grievance on social media and internet, then it cannot be said that it’s wrong information”.

Another mandatory order of the UP CM that cost many lives was to get a referral from the Chief Medical Officer’s office before securing admission for a Covid patient in any hospital.

As relatives spent precious time running around to get the referral, patients died in waiting areas of hospitals. Following the intervention of the Uttar Pradesh Human Rights Commission the UP government scrapped the draconian order for admission in private hospitals. However, it continues for the government hospitals.

Instead of addressing the problem head-on the UP CM has instructed his officers to initiate action against hospitals that have put up notices saying they had no oxygen and the patients be shifted elsewhere.

He said there should be a probe to establish whether they deliberately tried to create panic,” an official said.

Oxygen shortage

Many hospitals in Lucknow and other parts of the state had put up notices on their premises and even sent press releases declaring an oxygen shortage and advising families of Covid patients to shift them elsewhere.

Following threats of criminal action the notice was withdrawn while the situation remained the same in Lucknow as well as in other districts where the number of dead is mounting due to oxygen shortage.

A doctor-owner of a leading private hospital in Lucknow decided to down shutters due to the shortage of oxygen. “Every patient coming to the hospital requires oxygen. Begging the administration of oxygen, I received 10 cylinders against the required 100. How can I choose who to save and whom to let die?” said the doctor by way of explanation.

The attitude of the government to remain in denial mode or worst still intimidate those who speak out is best illustrated from the decision to overnight build a tin enclosure around Lucknow’s crematorium, Bhainsa kund.

The knee-jerk decision was taken when media reported that the rows of bodies had been burning there every night that far exceeded the official Covid deaths.

Experts and doctors speaking on condition of anonymity say that the scenario in Uttar Pradesh is much worse than it appears.

A senior doctor working for Jhansi’s reputed missionary hospital said that earlier her hospital received between 60 to 100 RT-PCR testing kits per day. In the second wave, the number of kits received has dwindled to 20 per day.

“Every day we have more than 200 patients waiting for the test. We have to turn them away as we don’t have sufficient kits”, she lamented.

An office bearer of the UP Provincial Medical Service Association admits that there is huge pressure to keep the numbers down and to wish the calamity away.

Substantiating his charge, he said that a relatively new state government medical research institution was sending too many positive results. It was warned by the Lucknow administration to curtail the numbers. When the hospital refused to be browbeaten, the administration ensured the closure of the laboratory ostensibly due to it not following the central pollution control board guidelines.

Allahabad High Court

On April 27, the Allahabad High Court had issued a notice to the Uttar Pradesh State Election Commission seeking an explanation on why it failed to check non-compliance of COVID guidelines during the four-phase elections.

A division bench of Justices Ajit Kumar and Siddhartha Varma passed the order on a suo moto public interest litigation while taking cognizance of reported deaths of 135 teachers, shiksha mitra and investigators assigned panchyati election duty.

Reprimanding those in power in Uttar Pradesh the court observed that it “must shun the attitude of ‘my way or no way’”.

Early on April 29, SDM of Sahaswan in Badaun Kishore Gupta died due to COVID. He reportedly contracted this disease while on panchayati raj election duty.

On the final day of the 4-phase panchyati election on April 29 a Rajya Shikshak Sangh press release claimed that 577 basic teachers had in fact succumbed to the pandemic while conducting the elections.

Until now three sitting BJP MLAs have succumbed to the pandemic in UP during the last one week. The deputy chief minister Dr Dinesh Sharma and his wife are seriously ill and admitted in the Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute, in Lucknow.

On April 18, BJP MLA from Nawabganj in Bareilly Kesar Singh Gangwar, wrote to the union minister health and family welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan requesting for a bed in Delhi’s Max hospital as he had been asked to undergo plasma therapy by the doctors in the hospital in Bareilly.

Failing to get any response, he died on April 28 in a Noida hospital.

The first to die on April 23 was 56-year old MLA from Auraiya Sadar Ramesh Chandra Diwakar. He died in a Meerut hospital after four days of treatment. Shocked to hear the news of his son his 92-year old father died the next day.

The same day 76-year old, five-time MLA from Lucknow, Suresh Srivastava succumbed to the disease. Two days later his wife also died due to COVID related complications.

On April 29, a 1985-batch IAS officer and the present chairperson of the UP IAS Association Deepak Trivedi succumbed to the pandemic.

Despite many high profile deaths, few ruling party politicians have voiced their protest against the mismanagement of the health infrastructure and the decision to go ahead with the local body polls that has cost the lives of their colleagues. The MLAs are said to have contracted the disease while campaigning for the ruling party.

Interestingly, only two ruling party politicians wrote letters to the chief minister drawing attention to the chaos. One was BJP Mohanlalganj MP Kaushal Kishore, who was once with the CPI and Lucknow (Central) MLA and cabinet minister Brajesh Pathak who was earlier with the BSP.

Murmurings are being heard in sections of the bureaucracy as well. In a social media group of the IAS Association of Uttar Pradesh, a senior IAS posted: “Why the (panchayati) election was not postponed in the first place is beyond comprehension particularly when we were already in bad shape by 15th April. We are losing officers and so many other staff by the day that is the saddest part. How much public has been afflicted due to the elections, we can only guess …”

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