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Govt adopting policy of 'coercion' to fight Covid-19 in India's diamond city: PUCL

Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani
Counterview Desk
Focusing on the manner in which Covid-19 crisis is being handled in Surat, considered the diamond city of India, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has said that adhocism in planning and coordination characterises the authorities’ pandemic response. Pointing towards how the administration is refusing to coordinating with civil society, PUCL says, “Rather motivating people for voluntary cooperation, coercion has been deployed as a strategy.”
In a letter addressed to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, with copy to state health officials and Surat city authorities, PUCL notes, how its earlier representations regarding “constructive suggestions” on health facilities, quarantine centres for distressed people, issue of migrant labour, etc., “were not considered.”
Calling the authorities’ response to “disaster management” strategy a complete “management disaster” in itself by refusing to do Covid-19 testing, whose ratio on an average is one of the poorest, 49 tests per 10,00,000 population, the letter, signed by PUCL activists Krishnakant Chauhan and Ajay Jangid, underlines, the authorities are not adopting the “Track, Test and Treat strategy” announced by the Government of India to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Text:

We acclaim and appreciate the commendable efforts and commitment of the Surat Municipality along with all its staff and officers, including Banchha Nidhi Pani, Municipal Commissioner of Surat. The State government and the Central government have been effectively putting in efforts to control the Covid-19 spread.
While the state and Surat city/district authorities have put in their optimum efforts, adhocism in planning and coordination has been an issue all through. Our several letters in this regard are on record, where constructive suggestions were not considered. Health facilities, guarantine centres for distressed people, issue of migrant labour, etc. have been a matter of concern all through the fight against the pandemic.
Rather than motivating people for voluntary cooperation, coercion has been deployed as a strategy. Excessive utilisation of police force to quell migrants genuine concerns were seen in many places in Surat and Gujarat. Food insecurity was one of the major concern of the marginalised poor and labours who lost their livelihood, as soon as the sudden lockdown was announced. 
Surat Municipal Corporation step to discontinue publishing Covid-19 testing figures since May 30 is a matter of concern
The ‘disaster management’ strategy has been a ‘management disaster’ in itself. Updates on Covid-19 testing and cases are essentially meant to gradually weave a wholistic picture about the authority’s efforts and their effectiveness. Hence they are to be read together, rather separately. Daily figures in the update is meant to give an idea of daily progress, however when these figures are put together over a period, they create a confusion, rather clarity.
Track, Test and Treat strategy was announced by the government to contain the spread of Covid-19 infection. Only Testing can confirm Covid-19 infection. We understand unless large scale testing is adopted and continued, any effort towards control of spread will not bear results:
  1. The Surat Municipal Corporation’s (SMC’s) step to discontinue publishing Covid-19 testing figures since May 30, 2020, is a matter of concern.
  2. The cumulative testing figures of Surat also reveal disparity in test figures. 
  3. The slow and low rate of testing has been an issue of considerable debate in the fight against Covid-19. 
  4. A simple mathematical calculation of the testing ratio reveals that on an average 49 tests were conducted per 10,00,000 population in SMC area. 
  5. We would like to point out here that the daily briefings at the state level has also been suddenly discontinued. 
  6. Sudden suspension of test figures & reporting point to change in strategy of the government, blocking transparency. 
  7. The latest announced opening figure as on June 1, 2020 for positive cases in SMC area is 1,607. 
  8. The cumulative closing figure for positive cases till May 31, 2020 is 1597. The variation of 10 cases even in the latest updates are a source of concern. 
  9. Cumulative variation in positive cases for Surat reveals a difference of 101 cases. 
  10. Such variations are found from the very first update published on April 16, 2020. 
The challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic is unique in its nature. After four consecutive lockdowns extending to a period of 68 seven days and the janata curfew, the pandemic has been keeping us on toes. Now we are in the fifth phase of lockdown, essentially trying to unlock the lives of the more than 130 crore populace of our country.
We appreciate the daily updates by SMC as part of dissemination of Covid-19 related information and its spread, to apprise and aware the citizens. Communication and transparency with the citizens to ensure their fullest co-operation and participation to control the spread of the infection is an essential exercise.
SMC has been publishing the Covid-19 updates since April 16, 2020, i.e. after the completion of the 1st phase of lockdown on April 14, 2020. Each daily updates are important in the sense that they give an idea about the efforts put in by the authorities.
While trying to put together the published updates for the three phases (2,3 and 4) we could not understand some inconsistencies that propped up unexpectedly.
While the daily Covid-19 updates were just figures published by SMC and announced by the municipal commissioner, the variation in the figures create confusions and call for urgent clarity.
We urge that:
  • The discrepancies found in the figures be investigated by a team of experts. And the findings be made open to public awareness and scrutiny.
  • The actual facts and figures be officially announced. 
  • Transparency in every manner be ensured.

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