December 2, 2021
Kalyan Banerjee speaks during discussion on COVID-19 pandemic and related aspects under Rule 193
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on this subject.
Madam, during the last 21 months, the fight which has been going on against COVID-19 has been fought by everyone of this country and no one should claim or seek credit for that. Not a single individual.
Almost two years after the WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, the world is still coming to terms with the disruptions caused by the virus. The government’s actions to counter and contain the spread of the virus has led to global supply shocks, specially in manufacturing, and lockdowns and other containment measures caused widespread business disruptions. It is known that the pandemic has brought the world down to the level of a second-grade economy and to the financial crisis of the 21st century. It is likely to have long-term structural repercussions. What is more is that we are seeing the fragility of the global, economic and geopolitical orders. As on December 1, 2021, COVID-19 has taken the lives of 4,69,724 Indians, as recorded by the Government. Over 30 million people have been infected by novel coronavirus in India. COVID-19 can infect people of all gender and ages. The pandemic has exposed and excavated inequalities and their impacts on vulnerable groups, who are mainly employed in the informal sector. Going forward, India will have to prioritise economic expansion and sustainability to maintain its statutory growth and influence. The country must continue to embrace transformational rather than incremental change to shape up an economic policy that supports rapid growth. Wage inequality and the rapid cases have pushed people out of employment into poverty. The Indian economy has fallen back by several years, if one looks at the GDP numbers, the sectoral value added in manufacturing and construction or the actual offtake of items like electricity, steel, cement, vehicles and so on. India will also need to continue making strides to improve competitiveness and ease of doing business. The country will also have to ramp up its infrastructural growth efforts, not just for roads and bridges but for health and education too. Amidst the ongoing volatility and change, India has a rare opportunity to undertake several policy changes to not only address the short-term public health challenges but to also become an important axis of power and influence in the post-COVID world.
From its devastating economic impact and its migrant crisis to the startling death toll, the COVID-19 pandemic in India unfolded one crisis after the other. As on November 28, 2021, a total of 70.19 crore beneficiaries, or 83.3 per cent of the estimated adult population, that is, those aged 18 years and above, have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. I am astonished to hear that someone is saying 110, 115, ringtone is saying more than 100 crore vaccination has been done. In our country, there are 135 crore people. And how many are above 18? It is 95 crore only. So how can vaccinations be more than 100 crore? To those up to 18 years of age, no vaccines have been given. So how can more than 100 crore doses have been given? There should not be any jugglery of numbers here. Plain and simple. Have you administered vaccine up to the age of 18 years? The answer is no. If no, then how can the toal doses administered be more than 100 crore? It is simple mathematics.
Out of a total of 2 crore 90 lakh disabled people in the country, only 8,390 have received the first dose and 4,018 have received both the doses. This slow pace of vaccination is likely to be a burden on India’s economic recovery. The second wave of COVID-19 in India brought unprecedented losses to the poorest and the most marginalised, including women and girls; they face more risk without the means to absorb the economic shocks and mitigate the health crisis. In India, women make up a significant proportion of all healthcare workers and more than 80 per cent of nurses and midwives. Yet, when it comes to the decision-making roles in the health sector, they are largely absent and they get paid much less than their male counterparts. However, some women and girls may be at a higher risk because they are poorer and lack the information and resources, or because they are at the frontline as caregivers and workers in the health and service sectors. Right now there is also a concern that less women are getting vaccinated than men in India—17 per cent more men than women have been partially or fully vaccinated, according to national data. Every crisis impacts women and girls differently than men because of existing gender norms and inequalities. To build back a better and more equal society after the COVID-19 crisis, a policy of investment and action targeting women and girls must be adopted.
The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation has also approved ZyCoV-D, the vaccine by Cadila Healthcare, for restricted use in emergency situations for the age group of 12 years and above but the government has not yet given its final recommendation.
Across the country, a lack of access to resources of digital literacy and a deepening digital divide, exacerbated by the pandemic, acted as major roadblocks during the COVID-19 crisis. Even as the government announced relief packages, foodgrains and cash payments, the mechanisms of delivery to beneficiaries at the last mile were unclear.
Madam, I will not take much time, as other speakers are there. I’ll just make a few more points. When India was hit by the pandemic in April 2020, about 126 million jobs were lost, that’s really a loss. About 90 million of those jobs were of daily wagers. May I put this question to the House members sitting here: All of us cried for the migrant labourers, but why has no mechanism been set up for the registration of migrant labourers in every state, as well as a nationwide mechanism? Whose fault is it? Why has it not been thought of?
The CMIE has been pointing out for a long time that there is a steady fall in salaried jobs and that it’s not abetting. We had 403.5 million jobs before we were hit by the pandemic. The best-case scenario for January 2021 or December 2020 was that we reached 400 million jobs. So we are still 3.5 million jobs short. Today we are at 390 million. Enterprises are unwilling to do anything because they only have 66 per cent capacity utilisation.
The public health sector includes national, state and district level governance systems across the country. It enables a coordinated response across the system. The private sector, on the other hand, is highly fragmented and has no such governance system to mount a coordinated response. But what I see, in my own way, that worst sufferers today in our country because of the COVID-19 pandemic are children. They are not getting a normal life, they are not getting to meet their friends. They’re not in a good state. Their mental growth is being jeopardised.
Madam, through you, I would request the Honourable Health Minister to very quickly introduce vaccination for children. Let them enjoy a normal life. If you have a child, if you have a grandson, then you would understand the pain they are going through. What pain, what pain they are suffering each and every day! The other day, the Honourable Minister categorically stated that no case of the Omicron variant has been reported in India. I will request the Honourable Minister, through you, Madam, to state what steps have been taken to prevent the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus from entering India.
Thank you, Madam.