WAR: A war has broken out between Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and the Power & Law Minister Nilesh Cabral. Perhaps the CM, angry over the embarrassment he had to face over the suggestion for counselling couples before marriage, is refusing to release funds to strengthen power infrastructure.
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when we realised that covid-19 is a vicious cycle. For a Saturday following the week when the Modi government decided to centralise the procurement and distribution of vaccines. For a Saturday following the week when Chief Minister Pramod Sawant reiterated that the hospitality industry will not open up till every eligible resident of Goa gets at least the first dose of vaccine. For a Saturday following the week when one gets the feeling that war has broken out between Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and Power Minister Nilesh Cabral. For a Saturday following the week when yet another birthday seems to be coming up, making me wonder whether I have lived too long.
CASINOS REMAIN CLOSED
AND a few stray thoughts on Covid-19 being a vicious cycle. There is a lot of satisfaction in Goa and the country as a whole about the signs that the second wave may be coming to an end. The number of deaths in Goa have been under 20 now for about a week. Yesterday’s (June 8) death toll was just 14. The disturbing fact is that apparently many private hospitals are not reporting covid-19 fatalities.
It has been found that five more covid-19 deaths in private hospitals have gone unreported. But the number of positive cases, after a weekend break, are back to around 500. Which means the positivity is still around 15%. So much so there are concerns about whether it would be wise to start the unlocking process. We would not need a lockdown or a curfew if there was a greater sense of discipline among the residents of Goa. If every Goan wears a mask and wears it properly after regular washing. If Goan maintain a physical distance needed to minimize if not prevent infection. What is likely to happen is that when the unlocking starts, we will happily return to square one.
In the United States where almost the entire population has been vaccinated and in some states people can officially go out in some public places without wearing masks. Public events like concerts and sports events like French Cup Tennis Tournament are being held to full houses. In Melbourne in Australia Goans celebrated May Day and even had a May Queen Pageant. But all that it requires is for half-a- dozen Indians, citizens of Australia, to return carrying the virulent Delta virus. In other countries tracing is taken very seriously. If any citizen tests positive for covid-19 the health authorities check with whom he has interacted with and quarantine the entire lot.
In the UK for instance even citizens who returned from holiday had to quarantine themselves in a hotel identified by the health authorities for ten days before they could return home to resume a normal life. And they had to pay for their stay in the hotels. There would be no problem if covid-19 was a local problem.
Unfortunately, the covid-19 epidemic in Goa will not end even if all Goan residents are given at least one dose of the vaccine. Pramod Sawant cannot assume that after vaccinating the entire citizenry he can let tourists come back to the casinos and night clubs of Goa. Because all that it requires is for one tourist coming to Goa to gamble or to dance at the night clubs and carrying the Delta version of the infection. The tourist will at least come into contact with a dozen odd people employees at the airport to employees at hotels and casino employees.
Not to mention cabbies who take them to and from hotel to casino and back. One tourist comes into touch with at the very minimum 25 people. So one may consider the chances of a third wave of covid-19 arriving in Goa in a worst case scenario.
LIFE & LIVELIHOOD
At the same time the State cannot remain locked down too long. Every lockdown means that economic activity is low and people are not getting an income to live even from hand to mouth. Every lockdown means thousands if not several lakh contract workers losing their jobs. Since contract labour stays mostly in rented accommodation they may not be able to pay their rent.
So bad is the situation that there are reports that taxi drivers have turned into traders because there are no tourists. Many taxis hire themselves out to vendors who want to sell mangoes, pineapples, vegetables, even fish. These hired vehicles hang around for a few hours at vantage point in urban areas to sell their goods.
THE choice is between life and livelihood. If you impose a lockdown or a curfew you may save lives. But if the lockdown continues for a year like it did the first time, more people will die of poverty and hunger than covid-19. All the charitable organisations supplying food packets to relatives of patients outside GMC will not do so indefinitely. At the same time, if you do not permit tourists, you cannot revive employment and bring back livelihood.
How long will we keep going through this cycle of lockdowns and unlocking because of another wave and yet another lockdown?
40 CRORE VAX ORDERED
AND a few stray thoughts on the decision of the Modi government to centralise the procurement and distribution of vaccines. Earlier it had been decided that the states would be permitted to buy the vaccines directly from the manufacturers, Serum Institute of India and Bharat BioTech. States like Maharashtra were even trying to import vaccines from abroad.
The harsh ground reality is that the demand for vaccines globally is much higher than the supply. Rich countries like the US and the United Kingdom and countries of Europe have already paid in advance for their requirement of vaccines and they have stocked up for any future needs. Serum Institute may be the largest producer of vaccines in the world. But Serum India is producing vaccines under license from AstraZeneca which is a British company. It is AstraZeneca which developed Covishield in collaboration with Oxford University.
While Narendra Modi was busy attending election rallies and taking a dip in the Ganga as the part of the Kumbh Mela, other countries were stocking up on vaccines. After the year-long lockdown Narendra Modi thought that there would be no second wave. Indeed, the second wave has been much worse than the first wave in terms of victims number of positive cases and casualties.
The other problem with vaccinating the entire population of India is that we are a country of 130 crore people. Even if Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech worked 24 hours a day it will take more than a year to produce a minimum number of 80 crore vaccines needed to achieve what is called herd immunity of a population.
Under the new scheme the Centre will buy the vaccines and distribute them to the States and Union territories. The Health Ministry has already placed an advance order for 44 crore doses of vaccine of which 25 crore is for Covishield and 19 crore of Covaxin. In addition the ministry has paid 30% of the advance for procurement of vaccines made by Serum institute and Bharat BioTech. As backup there’s an order to purchase 30 crore doses of a new vaccine — Biological-E — which will be available in the month of September, the order has already been placed. Only 25% of the vaccines produced in India will be permitted to be sold to private hospitals.
The vaccines may be distributed free but the Central government will not be getting them free. It will be paying for the vaccines they get from Serum Institute and Bharat BioTech. On an average it will be paying Rs150-Rs400 per single dose. You can imagine the cost to the public exchequer if the government pays for the 44 crore doses ordered so far. Since most vaccines are to be given twice the total number of doses will work out to Rs160 crore even if 60% of the population is covered.
The priorities for getting a free jab are health care workers, frontline workers, those who are 45+ and those who are due for their second dose. Then there is the 18-44 years age group which is eligible to be vaccinated. The huge cost of vaccination will further affect the economy with additional increase in deficit. After spending all that money there is no guarantee that India will be liberated from covid-19!
Unless India manages to shut off the rest of the world and does not let anybody from any part of the world come to India without a covid-19 negative certificate. Even the vaccine programme which Modi rightly calls our only shield will be useless if even by accident people from countries where a third wave has broken out come to India.
Unfortunately, our checking systems are so bad and there is a so much corruption that Goa and India may not be able to prevent a third wave even if its vaccinates 60% of the population. And Goa supplies one dose of the vaccines to all eligible residents of Goa.
NILESH PRAMOD WAR
AND a few stray thoughts on the war that has broken out between Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and Power Minister Nilesh Cabral. Nilesh Cabral is quite mad with Chief Minister Pramod Sawant for rejecting his proposal for making counselling mandatory for couples getting married. As in the case of the Catholic Church, Cabral wanted to make compulsory for a couple to produce a certificate that they had undergone counselling before the second signature confirming a marriage.
In fact now there is only one signature at the first stage when the documents of marriage are submitted through digital route. You don’t have to go to the Marriage Registrar’s Office any more but just send the required documents to its website.
CYCLONE POWER DAMAGE
CABRAL has been under a lot of pressure for the long delay in restoring power supply after the Taukae cyclone damage. There were several part of Goa which had to suffer it out without power for over a week. Amongst the worst affected were students who could not continue with their lessons as there was no Internet because of the power failure.
It is been admitted by Nilesh Cabral himself that the mass breakdown of power connections in the wake of the cyclone was because most of Goa’s power cables are above ground. In very few parts of Goa as in Panaji city the cables are underground. During the cyclone literally thousands of electric poles were uprooted. A large number of transformers were damaged. Similarly, high tension lines snapped in many parts of Goa.
The problem was compounded by the shortage of staff. Just as nobody wants to climb a coconut tree to pluck coconuts, similarly there are very few competent linesmen available. There is also a shortage of assistant and executive engineers because of promotion rules which require that they should be graduates. Most of the junior and assistant engineers in Goa are diploma holders from Kerala and Karnataka.
Goa has not been able to appoint a chief electrical engineer because there is no one available who is a graduate with the required experience to occupy the place. Cabral had been pleading with the CM to sanction a scheme for shifting the electricity cables underground. Cabral has been telling the CM that he does not even want money from the Goa government! There are organisations like the Power Finance Corporation which is willing to lend for the modernisation of the power infrastructure in Goa. Cabral claims that he has already got Rs1,400 crore sanctioned from Central financial institutions.
Unfortunately, he cannot get the money unless the CM approves the scheme. The lenders want the State government to guarantee that the money will be repaid. The CM is apparently telling Cabral to wait till the budget. Only a vote of account has been passed and no one knows when the budget will be passed. So Cabral is asking the CM if he should come to work or stay at home since he has no money to carry out any development of infrastructure.
AND a last stray thought on yet another birthday coming up next month. I am an original midnight’s child having been born in 1947, the year of India’s independence. Numerologically, my birthday has added significance because it comes on July 4 which is also the American Independence Day.
For almost ten years between the age of 55 and 65 years I used to have grand birthday celebrations. I did not look upon them as birthday parties as much as opportunities for bringing together all the people who had extended help, love and affection over the years, and the years have gone by. My birthday parties were more thanksgiving parties. Several occasions my mega celebrations were made possible primarily by my old friend Anil Counte and held at the historic old O’Coqueiro premises at Porvorim of arrest of Charles Sobhraj fame. Where a statue of Charles Sobraj, the bikini killer, draws curious interest and amusing comments from all who drop by. We do not know if the statue is still there.
My birthday get-togethers were attended by a large cross-section of people ranging from politicians to industrialists to professionals like architects, heads of NGOs and lots of doctors since I consider myself the most experienced and long-suffering patient in Goa. To the surprise of many guests the chief minister of Goa usually attended my birthday party and this includes the late Manohar Parrikar. Everyone excepting the host enjoyed my parties because it was rarely that such a diverse group could meet and interact with each other!
But like all good things my last birthday celebration ended on an anti-climax note. It was my 65th birthday party and ===== who runs a well-known culinary training institute for shippies had sent me a mega six-tiered cake. The piece de resistance was also always the bol sans rival sent to me every year by my good friend Margarida of Nostalgia fame. Almost everyone was present from the Cardiology Department of the GMC to the then Chief Minister Digambar Kamat. And of course all my NGO friends. Alas, the only person who was not present was birthday boy Rajan Narayan.
Just a couple of hours before getting ready to attend my 65th birthday party my guts collapsed. I started having non-stop diarrhoea. It was such a severe attack that I had to be hospitalised and spent 21 days in hospital before it was partly solved. I continue to have serious gut problems which regrettably not one of my best doctor friends have been able to do much about.
More than covid-19 it is the lockdown which is casting a very dark cloud on my forthcoming 74th birthday. This July I will be 74 moving on to 75 years and I continue to run the Goan Observer though I am able to do it now only as an online weekly.
I request all my friends old and new to advertise generously so that the online Goan Observer edition continues to stay alive for whatever years are left for me to stay alive and kicking in defence of opposition journalism.