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Modi govt 'wholly untrustworthy' on Covid data, censored criticism on pandemic: Lancet

By Rajiv Shah  

One of the world’s most prestigious health journals, brought out from England, has sharply criticised the Narendra Modi government for being “wholly untrustworthy on Covid-19 health data”, stating, the “official government figures place deaths at more than 530 000, while WHO excess death estimates for 2020 and 2021 are near 4·7 million.”
The Lancet in its latest unsigned editorial commentary insisted, “The fact that the Indian government attempted to delay the publication of such figures while also censoring criticism during the pandemic seriously undermines its integrity.”
The journal said, this was happening at a time when press freedom in India “has diminished since Modi's ascent to power in 2014” (the ranking is down to 161, down 11 in a year), adding, this also happened at a time when “Civil society is increasingly constrained and violent Hindu nationalism is suppressing non-Hindu voices. Without a space for debate, activism and accountability are impossible, and India's place as the world's largest democracy is threatened.”
Given this framework, it stated, “Ultimately, the leadership of any country on the global stage depends upon its legitimacy. The Modi government has failed to show a commitment to transparency, integrity, and equity. As a result, India risks squandering its formidable opportunities.”
The Lancet said, the situation has worsened despite India’s new digital health programme, the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, “could serve as a model for other countries to follow, and India’s “vaccine distribution platform, Co-Win, an open-source digital health programme, could be put to “public good for international use.”
While such actions suggest “India could enhance South–South cooperation”, The Lancet, which is considered the world’s “highest-impact academic journal”, however, regretted, “There is danger that India's domestic potential and its international aspirations will amount to little more than platitudes, given the direction that Modi is taking the country.”
Thus, said Lancet, while India has shown “global leadership in access to medicines”, and it alongside South Africa was “one of the first nations to propose intellectual property waivers during the Covid-19 pandemic”, questions have been raised how its “immense generics manufacturing industry” offered contaminated medicines, raising “questions over regulatory oversight.”
Citing the example of providing “affordable medicines to many parts of the world, including about two-thirds of antiretroviral drugs for HIV”, the contaminated medicines, it complained, “resulted a series of fatalities.”
Without a space for debate, activism and accountability are impossible, and India's place as the world's largest democracy is threatened
Conceding that “India has undoubted strengths”, The Lancet said, it would wrong to call demography a destiny. It noted, “While China's population is declining, India's is projected to continue increasing. The number of young people entering the workforce is increasing, presenting a potential demographic dividend.”
The Lancet agreed that “India has shown some enthusiasm for building greenhouse gas infrastructure”, though added, “But softening of the language on coal at COP26 invites scepticism. Despite low health sector and per capita emissions, India remains the world's third largest CO2 emitter.”
It said, “India's climate policies are a contradiction. It is seeking more than US$100 billion annually to support renewable energy transition in LMICs. Huge investments in green hydrogen and solar energy could reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, which account for more than 80% of India's energy needs.”
It added, “India is already feeling the consequences of failing to act. Last year, devastating heatwaves wreaked havoc, and India recorded its hottest March on record. Articulating a clear pathway towards net zero, and having the data to support it, are imperative.”
In fact, it said, “India's climate policies are a contradiction. It is seeking more than US$100 billion annually to support renewable energy transition in LMICs. Huge investments in green hydrogen and solar energy could reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, which account for more than 80% of India's energy needs.”
Commenting on India holding the G20 presidency, taking over from Indonesia, with its New Delhi Leader's Summit in September will be the first to be hosted in south Asia, The Lancet wondered, “What will these developments mean for its role in the international system? India says that it wants to amplify the voice of the Global South, and its G20 goals reflect this ambition.”
However, it pointed out, “The nationalist agenda of Narendra Modi's government, its resistance to multilateralism, and a raft of pressing domestic concerns threaten the chances of making these aims a reality.”

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In today's day and age of high-speed communications, it is difficult to hide facts and figures; but once they are made public it is difficult to disprove them.

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