The central government should provide for free vaccination to all Indian citizens and greatly ramp up RT-PCR testing in both rural and urban areas, a group of former civil servants said on Thursday in an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
They said the government seems to be more concerned with managing the narrative of 'efficient' management of the COVID crisis rather than addressing the crucial issues at stake.
The letter is signed by 116 former civil servants, including former Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar, former health secretary K Sujatha Rao, former foreign secretary and ex-national security adviser Shivshankar Menon, former adviser to the Prime Minister T K A Nair, former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and former lieutenant governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung.
'We are aware that this pandemic threatens the entire world and is not going to leave the citizens of India untouched.
'And yet, what numbs our senses daily is not just the cries of the citizenry for medical assistance and the death toll in its thousands but the manifestly casual attitude of your government to the magnitude of the crisis and its implications for the mental and physical health of the community of Indians,' the letter said.
Despite warnings from the international community and Indian scientists, the breathing space between the first and the second waves was not used to augment critical resources such as medical staff, hospital beds, oxygen supplies, ventilators, drugs and other medical supplies, it said.
'Even more inexcusably, no advance planning was done to secure adequate stocks of vaccines, despite India being one of the major vaccine suppliers to the world,' said the letter, written by them under the aegis of Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG).
'The complacency displayed by you and your ministerial colleagues at various forums not only diverted attention from the looming threat but probably also contributed to both state governments and citizens letting down their guard at a crucial juncture,' it said.
'As a result, your Atmanirbhar Bharat is today compelled to seek the help of the outside world to lessen the agony inflicted on its own people by your government,' said the letter titled 'India needs action now'.
The former civil servants said the government, right from the outset of the pandemic in March 2020, has never systematically assessed the funds that state governments would need to tackle the pandemic.
'The PM-CARES fund was set up when there was already a Prime Minister National Relief Fund in place. No disclosures have been made regarding the funds collected and the expenditures on various items,' the letter said.
This fund attracted to itself moneys which would otherwise have gone from corporates and the public to the various CM Relief Funds and to NGOs, it said.
On top of this, the harsh restrictions imposed on NGOs, especially those obtaining foreign contributions, have hampered their efforts in providing relief during the pandemic, the letter said.
'Your government seems to be more concerned with managing the narrative of 'efficient' management of the COVID crisis rather than addressing the crucial issues at stake,' it said.
They urged the government to provide for free, universal vaccination to all citizens of India, according to the letter.
'Government of India must centralize the procurement of vaccines from all available sources and supply them to state governments and all other implementing agencies,' it said.
They also urged the government to greatly ramp up RT-PCR testing in both rural and urban areas, make adequate funds available to the states for provision of medical facilities and stop expenditures on non-essential items like the Central Vista redevelopment project.
'Provide a monthly income support for the current financial year to the needy sections of society to enable them to meet contingent expenses and unforeseen emergencies,' the letter said.
Economists have recommended Rs 7,000 per month per household, equivalent to minimum wages, it said.
The former civil servants also asked the government to immediately remove the FCRA restrictions imposed on NGOs so that they can avail of funds provided by foreign governments and charities for COVID management and other related activities.
'Place all data in the public domain and ensure that evidence-based policy measures are implemented,' the group asked in the letter.
The former bureaucrats said compassion and caring have to be the cornerstones of government policy.
'History will judge our society, your government and, above all, you personally, on how effectively we handle this crisis,' the letter added.