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The MVA report card: Maharashtra government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic

10-min read: As the Maha Vikas Aghadi struggles to keep itself afloat, here's a snapshot on the Maharashtra government's handling of the pandemic.

Amidst the pandemic, the focus of the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance seems to have shifted from managing the crisis to balancing the three-wheeler government. From NCP supremo Sharad Pawar meeting political strategist Prashant Kishore, to Congress threatening to fight elections alone to Nawab Malik claiming ‘all is well’, all definitely does not seem to be well in the current government. 

Meanwhile, Maharashtra which was amongst the first states to be hit by the second wave of the ongoing pandemic recorded over 9000 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday. In a worrisome update, even before the state could breathe a sigh of relief after the brutal second wave, 21 cases of the new Delta plus variant have been reported from Maharashtra. 

To top it all, with a level-based unlock rule that differs from city to city, the left lane-right lane guidelines for shops and colorful stickers for vehicles, citizens are left confused regarding the latest Covid guidelines. 

As a result, the state capital continues to witness heavy traffic which, by the way, came as a shock for the Chief Minister himself when he decided to step out after governing the state from his residence. 

As a repercussion of this ‘missing-in-action’ leadership, the Chief Minister was mocked incessantly every time he came online to make a new announcement. 

The state transport system is overflowing with commuters and major cities back to being stuck in gridlock. This pretty much sums up the condition of the state from the onset of the pandemic. 

Let us look back and see how the Maha Vikas Aghadi managed the state during the pandemic. 

Congress sits this one out

Congress’ prime focus at the moment seems to be getting its lost glory back in the state. This was evident from the recent statements of Congress state chief Nana Patole who felt that a party that led Maharashtra for two consecutive terms was being sidelined in the current MVA government. 

With the NCP acting as a charioteer of the MVA, Shiv Sena as the follower, the angst displayed by Congress leaders is understandable. Time and again state Congress leaders went on record to reveal that the party has very little or no say in the coalition. 

Budget allocation for health remains low

With Maharashtra being one of the worst affected states by the pandemic, the budgetary allocation for health remains a mere 3.5% of the total budget outlay for 2021-22. This was even lower than what the state had spent in previous financial year. Additionally, as per a Mint report, Maharashtra had spent 24% less than budgeted for health in 2020-21.

One may wonder about the government spends in that case. Let’s take a look at some of the “crucial” (read misplaced priorities) projects financed by the government.

Rs 5.5 cr tender for PR

Despite the state’s cash position remaining stressed due to the coronavirus lockdown in September last year, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was all set to shell out a sum of over Rs 5 crores to promote his Maha Vikas Aghadi government. For this, the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government’s administration department had floated an e-tender, inviting private advertising agencies to apply for managing the PR of the Chief Minister and the Government of Maharashtra.

Plans to spend Rs 6 crores on Ajit Pawar’s PR

The Maharashtra government led by Uddhav Thackeray had to cancel its decision to spend Rs 5.98 crore for appointing a private agency to boost the image of the state’s Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar after facing a backlash.

BMC spends Rs 2 crores annually on social media management

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) was also questioned regarding its Rs 2 crore annual expenditure on administering its social media accounts, particularly its 34 Twitter accounts.

Rs 3,693 crores to renovate bungalows of Shiv Sena corporators

In April this year, the opposition leaders slammed Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray for sanctioning a whopping Rs 3,693 crores from the District Planning and Development Committee (DPDC) funds for the beautification of bungalows of 43 Shiv Sena corporators.

Rs 900 crore tender for new MLA houses

In 2017, the then Maharashtra government had floated the first tender to reconstruct the Manora MLA complex at Nariman Point in Mumbai at the cost of Rs. 400 crore. However, citing a delay the Maha Vikas Aghadi government scrapped the earlier tender and put up a new tender by escalating the cost of the project to Rs. 900 crores.

Expensive cars for ministers

The ceiling limit for the purchase of a car for government employees has been Rs 20 lakh, however, a special provision, with the approval of the state government’s finance department and chief minister Uddhav Thackeray was passed to purchase six new vehicles worth Rs 22 lakh and above.

The MVA government’s coordinated applause and appreciation from the Bollywood fraternity at a time when the state was reeling under the pandemic’s pressure also raised eyebrows. 

COVID mismanagement

It is imperative to note that the MVA government indulged in the aforementioned while the frontline warriors waited for their due payments or permanent jobs as security. Here is a glimpse of what went wrong:

ASHA workers lathi-charged

In the latest incident, the Maharashtra police unleashed a brutal lathi charge against ASHA workers for stopping the car of Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar during a protest at Osamanabad district on Friday.

The ASHA workers continued their protests for the fourth day against the state government, demanding an increase in the monthly honorarium. Around 70,000 Asha workers in Maharashtra had launched an indefinite strike from June 15 against the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government in the state, demanding a pay hike.

Resident doctors launch protests

In May, the resident doctors of 4 Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) hospitals launched a social media campaign against BMC’s decision to compensating their stipend arrears with the money paid for Coronavirus duty.

Government fired 25% contractual workers

The Maharashtra government in January this year laid off 25 percent of contractual health staff with a one-day termination notice thinking the Covid-19 crisis is over. The workers were rendered ineligible for the vaccination drive of frontline warriors and were not compensated either.

Second wave mismanagement

All of this while the health infrastructure of the state crumbled entirely with critical patients wandering hospital to hospital for a bed, people gasping for oxygen and crematoriums running out of wood to cremate the Covid-19 victims. The second wave hit Maharashtra and it put more stress on the already stressed healthcare system.

“Kill my father instead” and many such horror stories 

With the advent of the second wave of the pandemic, Maharashtra ran out of hospital beds too soon. In a heart-wrenching incident, Sagar Kishore Naharshetivar who had been on the move for days in search for a hospital bed for his father said, “Give him a hospital bed, or just kill him with an injection.”

In another video that surfaced on social media, a severely ill man is said to have died in the car itself while his family ferried him from one hospital to another in search of a hospital bed.

A woman COVID-19 patient in Satara district, Maharashtra, was seen waiting in an autorickshaw with an oxygen cylinder hooked on to her to enable breathing.

COVID-19 patients at Osmanabad district hospital in Maharashtra were given oxygen on their chairs as the hospital appeared to have run out of beds.

Patients die due to shortage of oxygen

The fag end of March is when the state started to witness the brutality of the second wave. Seven COVID-19 patients lost their lives in just two days due to a shortage of oxygen supply in March end. The oxygen demand had increased five-fold even before we entered into April.

Hospitals sends patients back

Authorities at two private hospitals in West Nagpur had to ask the relatives of all patients to get discharged and find other hospitals.

Covid patient protests outside hospital

A 38-year-old critical COVID patient succumbed to the infection while protesting outside the Nashik Municipal Corporation in April. Babasaheb Kole had reached the corporation office with his oxygen mask on after he was refused admission by multiple hospitals in Nashik. 

Dog loiters around patients

The apathy of the government was such that the patients and the hospital administration were abandoned when the situation spiraled out of control. In an incident from Nagpur, two stray dogs were seen roaming freely inside a patient ward at the Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) where the patients slept on the floor.

Fires and other mishaps

Amidst the lack of health infrastructure, the functional infrastructure witnessed innumerable fires and other mishaps, thereby exposing the government’s lethargy in exercising safety norms.

At least 57 lost their lives in hospital mishaps in four months in Maharashtra. 

Lack of dignity in death

As if this was not enough, soon mortifying news of crematoriums running out of space and wood and bodies being stacked added to the panic.

Ambulance stuffed with 22 dead bodies

In April, an ambulance was found ferrying 22 dead bodies of Coronavirus patients from a hospital to the crematorium in Ambajogai in the Beed district of Maharashtra.

8 bodies burnt on a single pyre

In another petrifying news that became the headline in every media, eight bodies of COVID-19 victims were cremated on a single pyre in Maharashtra’s Beed district due to a shortage of space at a makeshift crematorium.

Lack of space in crematorium in Aurangabad

A shortage of space had been reported in a crematorium in Aurangabad. As per reports, pyres had to be set on fire even before the previous one extinguished completely. 

Shortage of dry wood to light pyres

The city of Bhusawal had reported a shortage of dry wood to light the pyre of the deceased. The cremation ground near the Tapi River which usually cremates ten to fifteen bodies every day was experiencing a sharp rise in numbers with relatives of the deceased queuing up to perform the final rites. 

Woman drives to crematorium with the dead body of her mother

In Nashik city, a woman was forced to drive to the crematorium with the mortal remains of her mother as she could not find any hearse or ambulance to carry her body. The woman received no help and was forced to carry the dead body of her mother in the backseat of her car and drive to the crematorium to perform the final rites. 

Corporates pitched in, while MVA leaders flout norms

As the frontline workers struggled to save lives and several industries came together to mitigate the oxygen shortage, the MVA ministers decided to indulge in fear-mongering, assaulting the Covid warriors and flouting the Covid norms themselves.

MVA leaders manhandle Covid warriors

In one incident, a Congress leader’s son was arrested for thrashing an on-duty Nodal officer in Gadchiroli. 

In another high-profile case, Nagpur Congress corporator Bunty Shelke along with Maharashtra INC Chief Nana Patole stormed into Nagpur’s Municipality Corporation’s office threatened and misbehaved with the employees. Shelke even claimed that the workers ‘deserve to be burned down’ for their incompetence. 

Whereas, BMC Education Committee Chairman and Shiv Sena Corporator Sandhya Doshi was caught on camera where it appeared she was taking undue advantage of her position creating a ruckus at a Covid-19 hospital in Mumbai suburbs for not tending to “her” patient.

NCP leaders in Pune flout norms

In yet another recent incident, former Pune mayor, and several NCP leaders were arrested for violating Covid protocol. Over 400-500 people had gathered to attend the party office’s inauguration by deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar on June 19 at 5 pm. The gathering was just a few days after the deputy chief minister warned people of the lingering threat of the Covid virus.

Congress leaders take to streets

The Mumbai Congress Chief and party workers broke the Covid norms in the name garb of protesting against the rising fuel prices. The Congress chief taking to the streets pushed a cop on camera and was heard telling his supporters that ‘if the police asked you to stop, go ahead and do not pay heed to these cops.’ He was also seen manhandling the cops. Soon after his comments, the protestors turned aggressive.

Dhananjay Munde flouts COVID-19 protocol

In May, Maharashtra Cabinet Minister and NCP leader Dhananjay Munde inaugurated a Covid-19 isolation facility for women in Beed in the presence of several party supporters tossing Covid appropriate behaviour. 

Sharad Pawar’s birthday celebrations go wild

In December last year, the workers of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) ran a riot on the stage on Saturday during the celebration of party supremo Sharad Pawar’s birthday in Maharashtra’s Beed.

Fear-mongering

As if this erratic behaviour was not enough, several ministers indulged in fear-mongering in April alleging the non-BJP states were not given enough vaccines by the Centre.

In an ongoing fight between the state and the Centre, Maharashtra’s health minister Rajesh Tope in April had alleged that the Centre is not supplying enough vaccines despite the state being worst hit by new cases of the Chinese virus. 

In reply to the claims of the state government, Union minister and senior BJP leader Prakash Javadekar said that five lakh doses of the COVID-19 vaccines were wasted in Maharashtra due to a lack of planning by the state government and that the vaccination drive was being poorly managed.

Rajesh Tope diverts vaccine to hometown

The same health minister Rajesh Tope in May had allotted an excess of 60,000 vaccine doses to his hometown Jalna. Do note that the state of Maharashtra ran out of vaccines from April 7 to 9 forcing the vaccination centres to shut despite the Centre stating that the state should have stocks available for a few more days.

Fake ventilator scam

Enough allegations were made on the Centre trying to pin the blame on them for the utter failure. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had to debunk claims that ventilators procured through the PM CARES Fund and supplied to Aurangabad were not functioning properly. The clarification came after Congress leader Sachin Sawant from Maharashtra has alleged a scam citing the alleged malfunctioning.

Threats to Adar Poonawalla

The state could not provide a safety and security to SII CEO Adar Poonawalla who received innumerable threats from high-profile politicians in connection to vaccine supply. SII has been manufacturing Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines under the brand name COVISHIELD.

Fake drugs and reports

From fake Remdesivir in Sharad Pawar’s constituency to fake RT-PCR reports, the thugs were having a free run in Maharashtra amid the pandemic.

Small businesses suffered

Amidst the turmoil, when the small business owners brought to light their struggle to survive amidst the pandemic, migrant labourers suffered at the hands of corrupt bureaucracy- the government turned a blind eye and instead focused on netizens who criticised the government or the ministers.

“Give me poison”

Prasad Kulkarni, once a renowned magician, was forced to start a fast food stall for survival last year after his business was severely affected by the lockdown. However, the fresh lockdown announced in the state of Maharashtra in view of the sudden surge in cases wreaked havoc in the lives of small business owners. “Give us poison instead,” said Kulkarni in an emotional video.

“Don’t kill our businesses”

Several trade associations in Mumbai staged a protest by coming out on roads against the restrictions imposed by the state government. “Don’t kill our businesses,’ read their banners.

Pulses sent under PM Garib Kalyan Yojana wasted

While the less fortunate struggled to gather a few morsels of food, Maharashtra wasted thousands of tonnes of pulses.

Mulund BJP MLA Mihir Kotecha had put out a video of the massive wastage of Chana Dal/pulses in Maharashtra due to the bad policies of the state, especially Chagal Bhujhbal who is serving as Cabinet Minister of Food and Civil Supply, Consumer Affairs in Government of Maharashtra.

The migrant crisis

The same MVA government that attacked the Centre in the first wave of the pandemic for leaving the migrant workers helpless, deserted them in the second wave. Sensing the imposition of yet another lockdown, several migrant laborers left Mumbai, Pune and other parts of Maharashtra for their native places.

A large number of migrant workers had flocked to CST and LTT stations in Mumbai to board a train back to their villages before they are stuck in the lockdown. Similar was the condition in Pune, where the hoteliers association said that 50 per cent of the migrant workers in the city were planning to go back in April.

The ones who chose to travel by road were heckled by the Maharashtra police and complained of corruption. The police was allegedly extorting a hefty sum to let their vehicles pass. 

Cases and attacks on netizens

Amidst the growing discomfort and panic amongst the commoners regarding the situation, the MVA government focused on filing cases against the ones who spoke against the government.

Recently, a Marathi actor was arrested for making a comment against Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde. In May, a BJYM leader was arrested for criticizing NCP supremo Sharad Pawar. In another case from November last year, a Facebook user was sent a legal notice for mocking chief minister Uddhav Thackeray.

In September last year, a navy veteran was thrashed by Shiv Sena goons for sharing a cartoon mocking the CM. Another, 40-year-old civil engineer from Thane, had allegedly posted a morphed photo of Maharashtra minister and NCP leader Jitendra Awhad who was later beaten blue and black. 

The blame game

In an attempt to hide the botched-up handling especially of the second wave of the pandemic, the MVA constantly looked for reasons and occasions to deflect the blame. However, the addition of Covid death backlog has revealed the sorry condition of the state.

Blaming Kumbh for rise in cases

Sanjay Raut and several MVA leaders in April, blamed people coming from other states for the spike in Covid-19 cases in the state. Sanjay Raut went a step ahead to blame the Uttarakhand government for permitting Kumbh Mela.

“Journalists suggested reducing tests”

In a bizarre revelation, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) spokesperson Nawab Malik in May revealed that a few journalists asked him to reduce the number of Covid-19 tests in Maharashtra to avoid the backlash. 

Maharashtra adds backlog

The reconciliation activity in the state led to an increase of 11% in Covid deaths after over 12,000 deaths were added by mid of June. The fatality rate in Maharashtra continues to be around 2% till date. 

BMC chief explains why states to be blamed

Going against the tide, BMC chief Iqbal Singh Chahal, in an interview to the Indian Express said that the government of India can’t be held responsible for the oxygen crisis in the country. He said states are to be blamed for the inadequate allocation of oxygen to them.

“Many states of India were not even ready to admit how many cases they have. How does Centre allocate to them?” said Chahal in an interview dated May.

Was the crisis avoidable?

Was this dreaded situation avoidable? Could the administration have done things differently and better to save lives? Let us have a look.

Collapse of communication from CM to PMO

An RTI query in May revealed that CM Uddhav Thackeray had not approached the PM for any support for seven months from last July to this April until the second wave hit the state. On the contrary, it was the Central Government that had approached the Maharashtra Government in March 2021 to be on high alert as the state was on the brick of the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic.

MVA ignored Centre’s instructions

While constantly monitoring the worrisome situation of Maharashtra, the Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had written to the Chief Secretary of Government of Maharashtra Sitaram Kunte, on March 15 stating clearly that the state’s focus should be on strict and effective containment and not the imposition of a lockdown.

However, the instructions fell on deaf ears and the MVA government chose to deliberately stay mum about its plans to introduce a lockdown during a high-level review meeting chaired by the Cabinet Secretary in April.  

In all of this, it is difficult to not account for the explosive case of Antilia bomb-scare, allegations of bribery on MVA and former state home minister Anil Deshmukh with rising corruption cases across the spectrum in the backdrop. 

The situation continues to remain grim in the state with children being the new target of the coronavirus pandemic. What will be the course of action by the Maha Vikas Aghadi is for us to see.

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