‘Govt Thought It Could Win COVID Battle With Bluff’: Chidambaram

There is no collective decision-making. May 2014 onwards, this has become a one-person government, Chidambaram said.

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As India struggles to cope with the COVID surge – hospitals across the country reporting shortage of beds, oxygen supply and medicines, queues outside hospitals and crematoriums getting longer, rising death toll defying government data, senior Congress leader and former Union Minister P Chidambaram, in an exclusive interview with The Quint's Editorial Director Sanjay Pugalia, raises big questions on the government's handling of the COVID crisis.

How could the government go so wrong in handling the crisis? The scenes outside the hospitals are heartbreaking.

The problem is that this government thought it could win a war with bluff, bluster and rhetoric, without doing actual ground work. There is no collective decision-making. May 2014 onwards, this has become a one-person government. All decisions are taken by the one person. And if that one person is away campaigning in West Bengal, there is nobody in the PMO to take a call. Is that the way to fight a pandemic?

The government has taken into account your suggestions on handling COVID crisis. Do you appreciate the government for that?

There still many crucial aspects, on which the policy is discriminatory and inequitable. What upsets me most is that there seems to be nobody in the government to understand simple arithmetic. The goal of vaccinating 30 crore people by 31 August (from 16 January) – wherein you have about seven and a half months, including Sundays and holidays – means 13 lakh vaccinations a day, without any break. Which means the supply end should also have 13 lakh doses everyday. Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech have limited capacity. How did they plan for this?

How long will the vaccine shortage supply bottleneck continue?

The capacity of both, Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech, is limited. They need capital investment to increase the capacity. Even now they haven’t reached full capacity. The Rs 4,500-crore announced by the ministry of finance will be a supply credit, which will act as an advance payment for the vaccines that will be supplied before the end of July. You can’t increase the manufacturing facility through a supply credit. You need capital investment.

But PM Modi has been chairing crucial COVID meetings on a regular basis.

Where is the result on the ground? Why are most hospitals reporting shortage of beds, oxygen and other health facilities? Why are there long queues of ambulances waiting outside hospitals and patients waiting to get hospital beds? Why are there long queues outside crematoriums? No capacity was added after September or October 2020. This government gave up the minute the curve started flattening. The government said they had won the war and also that they will win the war in 2021. Which war did they win in 2020? If they won a war in 2020, why is there a new war in 2021?

Can importing vaccines clear supply bottleneck?

Centre has not disclosed who they are in touch with. Import can only be by the remaining 5-6 manufacturers in the world, who have got approved vaccines. Who have they negotiated with? Who have agreed to supply? What quantity have they agreed to supply? I don’t know. Just to say that we are opening up for imports doesn’t mean anything. Suppose there is an export restriction on the vaccine manufacturer in that country, how will they export?

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