Madhya Pradesh

Sops and polls

Print edition : July 17, 2020

Students appear in the remaining 12th standard examination conducted by Madhya Pradesh Board of Secondary Education in Bhopal on June 10. Photo: PTI

Health department employees collect swab samples in a park in Bhopal on June 24. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

The BJP government in Madhya Pradesh has been handing out sops amid the COVID crisis but faces criticism that ruling party leaders are contributing to the spread of the contagion through political activities aimed at winning impending byelections.

AS the graph of positive COVID cases rises steeply in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress alleges that the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government is banking heavily on the distribution of economic sops in order to avoid being criticised for a shabby handling of the pandemic. As of June 25, the total number of cases stood at 12,448; the number of casualties reported was 534.

On June 22, the State government announced that electricity bills ranging between Rs.100 and Rs.400 would be rounded off to Rs.100 and households that ran up bills above the Rs.400 mark would have to pay only half of that amount. The Chief Minister said in a videoconference: “This decision will save the consumers of the State Rs.183 crore. The State government will pay this amount to the electricity department.” The move is being seen as a populist measure adopted with an eye on impending byelections in 24 Assembly constituencies.

The relief offered in electricity charges indeed seems to be part of a pattern. Earlier, the government credited Rs.451 crore into the accounts of more than 1,78,000 beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Rural. Similarly, more than Rs.82 crore was transferred to the accounts of over 8,000 beneficiaries under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Urban. Chouhan reintroduced the Sambhal Yojana for unorganised workers, which had been scrapped by the previous Kamal Nath government, and transferred Rs.41 crore to the beneficiaries.

Chouhan has come under sharp attack from the Congress for focussing on the byelections; newspapers have been regularly splashing pictures of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders flouting social distancing norms in their party membership drives. In the review meeting, Chouhan said categorically that the government would come down heavily on hospitals if they were found to be neglecting COVID-19 patients. “We have to save the lives of each and every corona patient,” he said.

Chouhan and his Cabinet colleagues are citing Madhya Pradesh’s low COVID growth rate to underscore the point that their response to the pandemic has been timely and adequate. In a much-publicised review meeting held on June 23, Chouhan said that in the week preceding June 22, the COVID-19 growth rate stood at 1.43 per cent, which was the lowest in the country. As per data released by the Madhya Pradesh government, the growth rate is 2.1 per cent in Gujarat, Rajasthan 2.31 per cent in Rajasthan, 2.96 per cent in Maharashtra, 3.23 per cent in West Bengal, 3.82 per cent in Uttar Pradesh , and 4.21 per cent in Tamil Nadu. The national average is 3.63 per cent.

The government’s claims, however, seem to be based on cherry-picked data. Experts have pointed out earlier that the virus had been spreading across the vast geographical span of the State rather swiftly, at one point infecting people in all 52 districts. In the second half of May, for instance, positive cases and the growth rate of deaths showed an upward trend. In the three weeks from May 6 to May 27, 12 districts registered more than 5 per cent growth rate of positive cases. There was a fatality rate of more than 5 per cent, as per data compiled on May 27. Even though Chouhan lauded the State’s testing capacity—currently, 6,000 samples are being tested across 24 laboratories every day—a look at the data shows that testing has been erratic. Throughout May, the number of tests conducted showed no uniformity. As many as 2,461 tests were conducted on May 1. They rose to 5,648 on May 16 but declined to 3,595 on May 27.

Congress spokesperson Abbas Hafeez Khan alleges that BJP leaders have a hand in spreading the virus. “The BJP leaders have only one priority at the moment: to win the byelections. To achieve that end they are making all-out efforts to show the Congress in a bad light. Every second day they are organising large membership drives and claiming that Congress workers are joining them. In reality, these are random people from the hinterland, not our members. But thanks to BJP leaders aggressively moving people to and from hinterland to the State’s red zones such as Bhopal and Indore, the virus is spreading in the villages at an alarming pace,” he told Frontline over the phone from Bhopal.

Between May 21 and mid June, the contagion spread from 186 villages to 462 villages. Bhopal, along with Bhind and Morena, have continued to report high number of positive cases. On June 23, Bhind reported 22 positive cases, taking its tally to 173. Morena reported a total of 42 cases on June 22 and June 23.

The BJP regime in the State also faced criticism after one of its legislators who had come to the Assembly to cast his vote for the Rajya Sabha election on June 19, tested positive. He is the second lawmaker in the State to be infected with COVID-19. Earlier, a Congress MLA from the Malwa-Nimar region tested positive. He had turned up in the Assembly sporting a personal protective equipment (PPE) on the day of the Rajya Sabha election. The names of the legislators have not been disclosed to the media.

The government is set to roll out its ambitious “Kill corona campaign” from July 1. A team of 14,000 men and women will survey 100 homes daily over the next 15 days. The objective is to make a door-to-door survey of two crore families.

Relief for students

Meanwhile, in a major relief to 17.77 lakh students of graduate and post-graduate courses in the current academic session, the State government on June 22 announced that the first and second year students of graduation courses along with students in the second semester of post-graduation courses, would be promoted without being evaluated through examinations. The decision was applicable to students in higher and technical education institutes in the State.

A government official told the media: “It was decided that students of undergraduate first and second years and those in the second semester of post-graduate courses will be admitted to the next class or semester on the basis of marks of their previous year or semester or through internal assessment, without any exam.”

The government decided that the results final year of graduation students and of fourth semester post-graduataton students would be compiled on the basis of highest marks obtained by them in previous years or semesters. A student in the final year or semester, who wishes to improve her or his marks, will be given the opportunity to take an offline examination at a later date.