The Telangana High court fumed at the state’s inability to control the dengue crisis. Coming down heavily on the administration, it said, “People are dying right, left and centre, the situation is almost reaching epidemic proportions, but no steps are being taken and we are unhappy at this state of affairs.”
But it was the response that took the cake. Telangana Chief Secretary SK Joshi blamed the state’s inability to tackle the dengue deaths to the Model Code of Conduct in force due to elections. This claim by the state’s most senior bureaucrat is problematic at many levels.
1. Even if one were to take Joshi’s word at face value, how can local body elections in May-June or the Huzurnagar byelection in October be held responsible when the cases saw a spike from August 2019. Or is it Joshi’s case to say that sanitation measures were not put in place before the onset of the monsoon because officials were more busy in local body elections.
But even that argument does not hold water as those elections were held to rural local bodies and there was no electoral exercise in the urban areas like Hyderabad that has reported a large number of dengue cases.
The court observed that the dengue cases had risen from 85 in January to 3800 in October. It can be safely assumed that given the lethargy and reluctance to collate data from private hospitals, this figure is very conservative.
2. Model Code of Conduct is enforced so that candidates and officials behave in a manner that does not give any undue favours to the ruling party. Did the government assume that undertaking anti-dengue and anti-malaria measures will be interpreted as wooing the electorate? What can be a bigger priority than keeping the citizens of the state safe?
3. The chief secretary’s defence shows the state does not have a credible defence. Worse, it is not willing to concede it goofed up. There is no remorse for the pain and the trauma caused to families that lost a near and dear one or for families that ran from hospital to hospital, in search of an elusive bed.
4. Joshi’s plea in court is no better than Health minister E Rajender’s refusal to admit there have been any dengue deaths in Telangana. Politically through August, there seemed to be an attempt to pin the blame on Rajender and the health department when the crisis had erupted in the first place due to the municipal agencies failing to ensure sanitation and prevent waterlogging. Later the government undertook a programme to clean up villages but that did not prevent a number of cases being reported from rural Telangana and brought to Hyderabad when cases turned critical.
The death of a magistrate from Khammam this week is proof that the system is unable to do much beyond photo-ops. Clean India programmes have largely remained a clinical exercise aimed at garnering points to win awards without making cleanliness a mantra for life.
5. Elections and byelections are a regular occurrence in every state of India. There is a need for the political apparatus to be less election-obsessed. Scores of ministers for instance, were deployed for days at end in the Huzurnagar byelection campaign making one wonder if the district MLAs are not enough to ensure a victory for the ruling party.