LOOKING INTO INDIA'S INFRASTRUCTURE FAILIURE AMID THE PANDEMIC

By Yuvraj Sinha

(20/05/2020 20:00 IST)

The COVID 19 crisis has revealed many things related to the humankind, administrations, and our own behavior and so on. It has revealed that how we, humans, though after millions of attempts and practices of humanizing the nature have failed to do so. The nature was the supreme, is the supreme and will remain the supreme until the great desolation. We are (though not being primitive) naturalized and still rely on the mercy of the nature, the Mother Nature. In order to understand what else the pandemic has revealed, first we need to ask ourselves a question. What is our imagination, idea about the term ‘infrastructure’? Edifices? Wide roads? Street lights? Dazzle of modernism? (Including modern technology) Probably high speed trains? Anything else? Some of you might find themselves in a position to think beyond this. But as being an ordinary and least knowledgeable person, these are the only things which come to my mind whenever I use the term ‘infrastructure’. But the meaning of ‘infrastructure’ is not limited to only these few things, it’s much broader than imagination of an ordinary person like me.

Infrastructure provides supporting services in the main areas of industrial and agricultural production, domestic and foreign trade and commerce. It contributes to the economic development of a country by increasing the productivity of the factors of production and improving quality of life of its people. So a thing related to economy, production and whatever has what to with the COVID 19 crisis at a time when such activities have been halted all across the globe? Rethink. As quoted earlier, it contributes to improving quality of life of its people, the crisis has revealed many flaws in related to our infrastructure, especially social infrastructure (which includes health, education and housing). This kind of infrastructural services are essential for an individual to live a decent life. In order to broadly understand the failures related to infrastructural services revealed during this pandemic, we need to look up to only two sectors: health sector and agriculture sector (more specifically agricultural marketing). Though agriculture does not fall into the category of the social infrastructure, but is important and has been hardly hit by the pandemic’s resulting nationwide lockdown.

On some day by the end of March of this year, Arvind Kejriwal (Chief Minister of Delhi), in one of his press conferences stated that “We need lockdown and its strict implementation as if the virus would spread all across, Delhi will run out of beds and it would create a very hectic situation which no one would be able to control.” Yes, we had no other option than the lockdown to tackle this pandemic at the moment, but the words of the CM indicate towards helplessness of our health sector. These are the words of the CM of Delhi, the city state which has registered a remarkable growth in the health sector in the last few years. But these words, in general, reflect the reality of our crumbling health sector, which is already in the ICU itself. It is a harsh truth that our health sector was never ready to face any pandemic, let’s leave pandemic, even an epidemic. A country with 1 government doctor in 10, 926 people in the population of 1.3 billion, with a large number of people living below the poverty line and in the EWS category can hope for something else? We have 0.77 doctors (including both private and government doctors) on 1000 people against the required proportion described by the WHO of 1:1000. India has total 9.26 lakhs active doctors registered with the Medical Council of India (MCI) with a shortfall of around 6 lakhs doctors. Same goes for nurses, we have around 20 lakhs nurses (exactly 20, 48, 979) with the shortage of 20 lakh nurses! So how can we find ourselves in a position to deal with such a pandemic without a nationwide lockdown? Even if the world has any other option, we still would have to go for something like lockdown as our health sector has never been ready to cope up with something like this.

As earlier we talked a bit about Mr. Kejriwal’s statement, the shortage of beds has been a problem for our health sector in general. For example, Bihar has 1,033 government hospitals with total 12,019 beds. The numbers may sound mighty but they are ‘mites’ as for a population of more than 10 crores with around 33.07% of people below poverty line these are very small numbers. The hardest hit state of Maharashtra has done better in this term as the state has 711 government hospitals with 51,446 beds. But unfortunately, the state has got a misfortune as it has recorded the highest number of the COVID cases in the country. Kerala has done far better than others in terms of the health sector (in the field of human development in general) as it has 1,280 government hospitals with 38,004 beds.

And there is a thing which the so called “mainstream” media has propagated that the rural India is much safer from the COVID 19 and the “rural immunity” has defeated the virus. The thing which we need to note that is the rural areas, villages in our country rely on Primary Healthcare Centers (PHCs) for health related services. The country has 25,640 PHCs with around 27,000 doctors against the sanctioned number of 34,068 doctors (shortfall of around 8,000 doctors). PHCs do not have medical testing facilities. Around 40% of them do not have adequate stock of medicines. Many of PHCs exist only on papers. So in such conditions, on which basis we should claim that the rural India (with 65.97% of the country’s population) is safe from the COVID 19? Abhi kahani katam nahi hui, rukiye zara.

You would have heard the word ‘isolation’ and ‘quarantine’ millions of times in the last few months. Do you know that district hospitals in the country, in general lack ventilation facility and have no essential equipment for isolation? (Which includes negative pressure with changing air conditioning cycle, HEPA filters, UV lights and anterooms).

Let’s get back to the number of hospitals, on proportional terms, we have 0.36 hospitals on 10 lakhs people in rural areas and 3.6 hospitals on 10 lakhs people in urban areas. All this is in the county with the population of 1.3 billion where poorest 20 % of Indians living in urban and rural areas spending 12% of their income on health care. I am not mentioning much about the private sector as though 80% of out-patients and 46% of in-patients are handled by the private sector, but still private healthcare services are urban centric and many of them, though being 5 star hospitals, focus more on making money than providing quality healthcare services.

And when all this was happening, where were we, means you and me, busy in enjoying the drama of Hindu-Muslim debates? Or enriching ourselves with the knowledge provided to us free of cost by the WhatsApp University? Think over this. We spend only 34% of our GDP on infrastructure (lower than China and even Indonesia) out of which we spend 7.7% on social sector even out of which we spend only 1.6% on health. 1.6%, seriously? The average spending of the government on per individual in terms of health is only ₹1, 657 which is even lower than the single consultation fees of a multi-specialty private hospitals. And in the background of this, you and I are happy with lighting flash lights and beating Thalia.

“Bharat ek krishipradhan desh hai”, the line we all have come across millions of times. But is this country really treating ‘krishi’ as its ‘pradhan’? Data and facts do not much reflect the same. The agriculture sector is one of the hardest hit sectors due to the nationwide lockdown caused by the outbreak of COVID 19. The season in which the county recorded its first COVID case was the season of harvesting of the Rabi crops. Due to the lockdown, finding labors for the harvesting became a great struggle for the farmers. Even if they harvested the same, they could not sell it due to closer of Mandis. The whole scenario revealed the problems (actually failures) related to infrastructural facilities related to the agricultural marketing (a process that involves assembling, storage, processing, transportation, packaging and distribution of different agricultural commodities across the country). To understand the problem faced by the sector during the crisis, let’s get on to few examples. The lockdown has posed a serious problem for the farmers in Bihar, as it has restricted their movement and led to a shortage of laborers to harvest their Rabi crops. Crops faced the risk of fire, string westerlies and the biggest one, get rotten. Even after the relaxation in the restrictions, farmers in UP were worried about their crops as some short of labor, some are waiting for the government to buy their produce and others are grappling with the forced social distancing.

Should not have been there adequate facility of storage for grains? Should not these states had a public facility of combined harvesters available? (Making farming less labor intensive) Would these things had not reduced the plight of the farmers? The above mention examples relate to the farmers cultivating grains only, the plight of the farmers cultivating perishable items such as vegetables and fruits is much more severe. Lack of cold storage facilities led some of them to throw away their produce or to distribute the same for free as they had no means to sell their produce and the products were fragile in nature. Taking statistically, the country has total 7,645 cold storages (with a capacity of 226.7 lakh tonnes against the requirement of 360 lakh tonnes) with a 68 % capacity used solely for potatoes. Is potato only a vegetable or perishable edible item that India produces? There is no facility for perishable crops like watermelon, grapes etc. India is the largest producer of fruits and vegetables on the planet. This data reveals serious problem of stock piling of perishable commodities.

Similar kind of problem is being faced by the grain producers as the county has 2,131 warehouses only (including 2,123 godowns and 8 silos; seriously 8) with a capacity of 91 metric tonnes, short of the required capacity. As well as we do not have any public facility of picking the produce directly from the farmers (So that even if farmers fail to get their produce to the Mandis then their produce would not have been wasted at a time like this), rather farmers are required to get their produce to Mandis. Lack of storage, absence of transport etc. are ruining the lives of the farmers, accompanied by unexpected rainfall in the northern part of India this year.

One interesting thing to note is that ‘heath’ and ‘agriculture’ are state subjects, not union subjects. So it means that the state governments of many states, especially of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh etc. (More specifically, the Hindi belt states), have failed to perform their job in the long term. It would not be judicious to allege current governments for the same as the mess has been done by the previous governments but what’s new the current governments have done? If have done, then it’s great. And if not, the history would not be kind to them. Some states are under the rule of the same party, same CM for more than 10 years. Like Nitish Kumar in Bihar. But Bihar appears to be the worst off, according to various data. Whom should we hold responsible for the same? Think over this.

Though the union government also contributes in these developments, it has also not done too well either. The government under the PM Modi aims to increase the share of spending of the GDP to 2.5% for the health sector by 2025. But the trends show nominal growth as the spending remained constant of 1.2% of the GDP between 2014 and 2019 and spike of 0.4% (1.6%) in 2019-20 only. The new economic stimulus package of ₹20 lakh crores has ₹1 lakh crores for agriculture related infrastructure and some faction for improving health infrastructure. But the question is, were we waiting for a pandemic like COVID 19 and the resulting economic crisis? Should these things not have been a part of the union budget? The delay in the announcement of the “package” would probably ease the plight of the farmers and the crumbling heath sector as it has been very late. The government should have been working on such things in the long term. The current “package” has nothing to give ease to any sector immediately, rather only in the long term. And in between all this, the “mainstream” media and we are happy with the discussion over poverty in Pakistan and Kim Jong Un’s haircut. Think. And rethink.

About Author.

Yuvraj Sinha

Editor In Chief

References.

Comment Box is loading comments...