Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday released the party’s ‘White Paper’ on management of Covid-19, accusing the Central government of not taking adequate measures to prevent and contain the pandemic.
Releasing the document at a virtual press conference, he said: “This White Paper is a discussion that has taken place within the Congress structure and we have had a discussion with the experts and we have basically developed four pillars.”
The first, Gandhi said, “is the idea of understanding exactly what went wrong, which is the foundation of the White Paper”. The second pillar is preparation for the third wave, which includes developing the critical infrastructure, including oxygen, and other elements.
“The third pillar… that we have been repeating again and again and again, is the idea of an economic assistance package. Covid is not just a biological phenomena, it is also an economic and social phenomena and that is why we have to make sure that the poorest people, the weakest people, small and medium businesses are provided support, that they need to get through and the fourth and final element is a Covid compensation fund, where we give money to people who have lost loved ones, where we commit to them support of the Indian nation and say ‘look, we stand with you in this difficult time’,” he said.
The White Paper termed the “mismanagement of the Covid pandemic as India’s gravest governance failure” and charged the Narendra Modi government with not taking adequate measures to prevent and contain the pandemic.
It said that the Modi government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis began with its “early inaction” in January 2020, and how “ignored early warnings from experts and political leaders from the opposition”.
“It failed to learn from the lessons and response models of other countries which had been hit by the pandemic,” it said, adding that the government did not scale up nationwide lessons from Kerala’s experience in successfully suppressing the Nipah virus outbreak.
“This inaction for a period of nearly two months was completely avoidable and cost us dearly,” it held.
The White Paper suggested that the Modi government should have acted with seriousness and urgency after the outbreak of the pandemic in other countries, learnt from their lessons and followed the 3Ts — Testing at scale, Tracing with diligence and Treating with precision.
It also said that the government should have screened all international passengers and quarantined them as necessary from January 2020, and also tested symptomatic persons with no travel history.
The Congress White Paper also criticised the government’s initial response consisting of measures like the Janata Curfew, ‘thali’ clanging and ‘diya’ lighting, which did not adequately communicate the risks from Covid-19 to the public.
“It did not prepare them to undertake appropriate preventive measures. Instead, the Prime Minister announced a nationwide lockdown with only four hours’ notice. It triggered a terrible humanitarian crisis impacting approximately four crore migrant workers and disrupted the livelihoods of poor families,” it said.
The Congress also came down hard on the PMCARES fund saying that it turned out to be an opaque entity with no transparency on utilisation of funds.
“The government ignored the suggestion of epidemiologists to conduct door-to-door screening to detect and curb the spread of the virus at the nascent stage,” it said, adding that advice of experts about the ineffectiveness of lockdowns was also ignored.
While the lockdown bought the government time to enhance testing and hospital facilities, its efforts on this front were “demonstrably inadequate”, it said, and the “lockdown thus imposed severe social costs without the equivalent benefit of disease control”.
The Congress also said that the government should have decentralised resources, and empowered and equipped local authorities to arrest the spread of the virus and prepared a response plan ahead of time, based on the experience of other countries, including the earmarking of resources and the ramping up of infrastructural requirements such as hospital beds and medical oxygen.
“Two characteristics that stand out from the Modi government’s handling of the pandemic are hubris and political avarice. The government declared victory over Covid-19 prematurely in early 2021. It deceptively used the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ scheme as a tool to project the Prime Minister’s image globally, when the bulk of exports were contracts placed directly with private sector vaccine manufacturers,” it said.
Slamming the BJP, the Congress said: “At a time when large gatherings should not have been allowed, the ruling party demonstrated political avarice by conducting large election rallies during the eight phases of the assembly election in West Bengal, when the nation was already reeling from the second wave of the pandemic.”
It also cited the toppling of its government in Madhya Pradesh during the first wave of Covid, saying: “Earlier the Modi government denied that Covid-19 posed a major threat to public health until a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government had been installed in Madhya Pradesh.”
It also said that the Modi government should have acted swiftly on warnings from scientists and the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG) about contagious new variants of the virus, avoided declaring victory over Covid-19, which instilled a false sense of safety among the public, who believed their leaders and lowered their guard, banned large gatherings, including election rallies, and postponed panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh.
The White Paper also highlighted that the Modi government’s practice of ignoring the signs and the science proved “disastrous”. It said that the government notified ICMR, a research organisation, as the nodal agency to manage the pandemic instead of the battle-ready National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and National Institute of Virology (NIV).
It also slammed the government for not rectifying “the under-reporting of the number of cases and deaths during both waves, crucial to frame policies based on accurate data”, and BJP Ministers for not adequately assessing and preparing responses to the risks of community transmission.
“Further, its ministers publicly promoted unscientific remedies such as Coronil.”