Coronavirus Outbreak: With rise in COVID-19 cases and no state cabinet, Madhya Pradesh struggles to cope with pandemic

As India grapples to contain the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led government in Madhya Pradesh is finding itself in a tight spot in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. The state is currently running as a one-man show with the chief minister at the forefront of the crisis due to the lack of cabinet in the state.

FP Staff April 25, 2020 14:37:32 IST
Coronavirus Outbreak: With rise in COVID-19 cases and no state cabinet, Madhya Pradesh struggles to cope with pandemic

As India grapples to contain the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led government in Madhya Pradesh is finding itself in a tight spot in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. The state is currently running as a one-man show with the chief minister at the forefront of the crisis due to the lack of cabinet in the state.

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Since there is no cabinet in place, there is no health minister. Besides that, the state health department that was supposed to lead the fight against coronavirus, is almost non-existent, with several top officials, including principal secretary of health, and managing director of Madhya Pradesh Health Corporation and chief executive officer of the state’s Ayushman Bharat programme, testing positive for the virus.

Multiple reports have said that despite showing COVID-19 symptoms, the officials attended numerous meetings on the pandemic, including those which were attended by the state chief minister.

Coronavirus Outbreak With rise in COVID19 cases and no state cabinet Madhya Pradesh struggles to cope with pandemic

File photo of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. PTI

With the Congress attacking the one-man Shivraj Singh Chouhan government over the spurt in coronavirus cases in the state, the BJP formed the task force, comprising Chouhan and some prominent state BJP leaders, on Monday.

"There were suggestions during the video conference that public participation and motivation should be scaled up to fight COVID-19," former state minister and leader of opposition Gopal Bhargava told PTI.

The task force would work for better coordination between the government and the party to fight off the virus, Bhargava said. State BJP chief VD Sharma is the convener of the 10-member task force.

Political Crisis

Two days before Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown,the Madhya Pradesh government, then led by the Congress, was toppled by the Opposition with Shivraj Singh Chouhan taking oath as chief minister on 23 March.

When most states were debating over how to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Madhya Pradesh was dealing with a political showdown between the then Congress lead state government and the Opposition-led BJP.

The state was hit by political turbulence after Congress' Jyotiradita Scindia and 22 Congress legislators defected to the BJP, destabilising the state government. Despite warnings over the coronavirus outbreak, MLAs of the Congress and the BJP were visiting one resort after another in groups, flouting social distancing norms in attempts to woo the rebel MLAs.

With almost no time to pick a cabinet, Chouhan's government had to kick into action as the number of confirmed cases in the state started to rise. With health officials testing positive, the state is becoming a COVID-19 hub with 1,120 cases and 64 deaths as of Friday morning. Indore and Bhopal are now emerging as major hotspots in the state.

Former chief minister and Congress leader Kamal Nath earlier this week had come down heavily on the BJP government at the Centre, accusing it of being responsible for the situation arising out of coronavirus in the country. He also alleged that the Centre ran Parliament only to ensure that the Madhya Pradesh Assembly could function and the Congress government headed by him could be toppled.

"It is obvious, Parliament was run only to ensure that the Madhya Pradesh Assembly could run and the Congress government be toppled," Nath told reporters at a press conference addressed through video conferencing.

He also said that the people of Madhya Pradesh were "befooled" by the saffron party as there was no council of ministers or a health or home minister in place in the state amid the crisis due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Eighty-nine health ministry staffers test positive

Another issue the state is facing the state is that nearly 89 personnel of the Madhya Pradesh health department, including four IAS officers and a few doctors, have tested coronavirus positive.

Apart from them, around 40 policemen and their family members, have also been found infected by the deadly virus, the official said. “Around 89 personnel of the health department, including four bureaucrats and a few doctors, mostly working in Bhopal, have tested coronavirus positive,” an official told PTI.

Coronavirus Outbreak With rise in COVID19 cases and no state cabinet Madhya Pradesh struggles to cope with pandemic

File image of doctors interact with people during the lockdown. AP

The IAS officers and the senior doctors were busy in planning strategies to combat COVID-19 when they must have contracted the infection, he added.

According to the official, the majority of the health staffers must have got infected while treating the patients. Additional Director of Madhya Pradesh health department, Sapna Lovanshi, said that they have not collected this kind of data for the entire state so far.

Meanwhile, Rajya Sabha MP and senior lawyer Vivek Tankha termed the development of a large number of health department employees testing coronavirus positive as “gross negligence”.

“The majority of persons infected by COVID-19 (in Bhopal) are from the health department, which is nothing but an outcome of gross negligence of the officers in the department in following the COVID-19 guidelines,” he said.

Tankha also complained to the Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission (MPHRC) on the issue and also took strong objections to the reply given by the Bhopal collector on behalf of the chief secretary on the issue.

“The chief secretary was given the notice by the MPHRC on the issue and he should have replied to it instead of directing the collector to do so,” the senior lawyer said.

Tankha had also attached proof about health principal secretary Pallavi Govil who remained at home after testing positive. She released the media bulletin and called a team of six people at her home to record it, two days after she tested positive, reported Free Press Journal. The letter also accused the principal secretary of health, of changing guidelines of AIIMS to remain in isolation at home.

Tankha has also severely objected to bureaucrats not being admitted in the designated COVID-19 hospitals defying all protocols.

Attacks on healthcare workers

A group of persons pelted stones at a police constable in Madhya Pradesh's Indore district when he asked them to stay indoors to contain the spread of coronavirus on 2 April. Five people have been arrested in connection with the incident.

A purported video of the incident also went viral on social media, in which the policeman was seen running to save himself from seven to eight people who were throwing stones and chasing him. One of the miscreants was seen picking up a stick while chasing the policeman.

In another incident, Two junior government doctors, including a woman, have alleged they were beaten up by police personnel who accused them of "spreading coronavirus", leading the authorities to take disciplinary action against a constable and order a probe into the incident in Bhopal.

The doctors suffered injuries in the attack, which they said, took place close to AIIMS Bhopal which is their workplace, when they were on way to home after duty.

With inputs from PTI

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