Uttar Pradesh: Infrastructure in a shambles

The rising COVID figures in Uttar Pradesh point to the debilitating effects of the State’s poor public health infrastructure on its efforts to deal with the pandemic.

Published : Jul 08, 2020 14:49 IST

Migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and their families arriving back in Ahmedabad, on July 1. Many of those who went back home to Uttar Pradesh at the start of the lockdown have started returning to cities in other States in search of work.

Migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and their families arriving back in Ahmedabad, on July 1. Many of those who went back home to Uttar Pradesh at the start of the lockdown have started returning to cities in other States in search of work.

Throughout June, all COVID-19 monitoring agencies of the Uttar Pradesh government recorded a steady rise in the number of infections and fatalities. The week comprising the last two days of June and the first five days of July registered an all-time high in weekly surge—5,560 new patients and 125 deaths, accounting for 20 per cent of the total caseload in the State and 16 per cent of the total number of fatalities respectively. As many as 1,155 cases came up on July 5, the last day of that week. The total number of cases, as of July 5, was 27,707, and 785 deaths. On both counts, Uttar Pradesh is fifth among the States affected by COVID-19.

These figures, along with hundreds of individual case studies on the medical, social and economic impact of the pandemic, make it starkly clear that the overall situation in the country’s most populous State is worsening by the day. They also underscore the many failures and deficiencies of Yogi Adityanath’s government in handling the crisis and related social and economic issues.

Agricultural districts bear the brunt

A major cause for concern, right from the first lockdown in the last week of March, was that the majority of the cases were reported from the western Uttar Pradesh districts—Gautam Buddh Nagar, Ghaziabad, Hapur, Bulandshahr, Meerut and Baghpat. About 100 days and several lockdowns later, these six districts, which form the backbone of the State’s predominantly agricultural economy, continue to be the most affected. In the first week of July, they accounted for nearly 8,000 cases. They also have recorded the highest number of fatalities (220) for any administrative division of the State, constituting nearly 30 per cent of the total number of deaths.

A couple of days before these figures came out, Chief Minister Adityanath directed the bureaucracy in Lucknow and also in the six western districts to evolve special measures to tackle the pandemic. This was followed by an announcement about a special 10-day screening campaign.

Professor Sudhir Kumar Panwar, a Samajwadi Party (S.P.) leader and president of the Kisan Jagriti Manch, a collective of activists and academics focussing on agrarian policy and practical interventions in the sector, pointed out that the State government’s COVID-related initiatives, especially in the six “agricultural backbone” districts, lacked concrete action and output. “The manner in which the medical crisis has continued to spiral in these districts signifies how things have been allowed to drift for as long as three and a half months. The economic hardships that have come along with this for the predominantly agrarian populace in this region are indeed crippling. There is need for a detailed study on this, leading to well-thought-out remedial measures and an action plan. It is not clear how actively the State government is pursuing this,” he told Frontline .

The State capital Lucknow and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Varanasi constituency are also areas viewed with growing concern. Lucknow added 338 cases between June 29 and July 5, taking the total number of active cases in the city to 550, recording the third highest number in Uttar Pradesh after Ghaziabad and Noida. Varanasi district recorded 204 new cases and 11 deaths between June 29 and July 5. These figures marked a 46 per cent jump in infections in the district, whose case fatality rate rose to 4 per cent against the State average of 3.6 per cent. Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh’s major industrial district, also registered 244 new cases and 13 deaths in the corresponding period.

The price of poor infrastructure

Many State Health department officials who had been consistently highlighting the utter lack of basic public health infrastructure in the State, particularly in the rural areas, cited these alarming figures to emphasise how debilitating this weakness was. One senior official, who is also a medical practitioner, said: “As is evident, it is not possible to build up good infrastructure in a short period, especially when you are confronting a pandemic of this scale.” He went on to add that the public health machinery in the State was also corruption-ridden. “We have been getting reports that several private hospitals in different parts of the State have been supplying fake COVID-19 negative reports to people for a price. An FIR [first information report] has been registered against a private hospital in Meerut for duplicating the seal and stamp of Pyarelal District Hospital, one of the two government hospitals in Meerut, to issue these fake certificates,” he said.

No succour at home

Grinding economic hardships are taking a toll on the people in large parts of the State, especially in rural areas. Historically backward regions such as Bundhelkhand and Poorvanchal are reportedly the worst hit. Right from the middle of May, there have been reports from these regions about migrants who came back as recently as the second week of April preparing to return to the cities where they had worked—Delhi, Mumbai and Gurgaon, and cities in southern India. They know that the prospects of regaining their jobs are bleak in those cities, but the situation back home is so grim that they are willing to brave that. Social activist Manoj Singh of Mahoba town in Bundhelkhand, who brought this trend to Frontline ’s notice in May, said: “Reports coming to us from all over Bundhelkhand and Poorvanchal point to frenzied efforts by these poor people to somehow make a living in their places of origin and the reverses they are suffering in this regard. As reported earlier, they are all contemplating ways to go back and making desperate efforts towards the same.”

He cited the suicide of Dharmendra, a 32-year-old migrant labourer in Gangapurva village of Banda district of Bundhelkhand, to show how alarming the situation was: “Dharmendra was working as a labourer in Delhi and had returned to his village in April. He tried to enrol himself in the various job schemes announced by the State government including the rural employment guarantee schemes but couldn’t find a place. Villagers say he was getting progressively depressed and on July 5 he hanged himself.” Dharmendra’s younger brother, Gyan Singh, reportedly told Manoj Singh that Dharmendra was worried about not getting a job, especially because their sister was about to get married.

Manoj Singh felt that the relief schemes announced by the government were not commensurate with the scale of reverse migration that has been taking place over the past three months. “Hundreds of thousands of people have returned to their villages. It is clear that the government has not got a fix on the exact number of those who have returned. Our inquiries show that a large number of those who have returned are starving, what to speak of medical care,” he said.

Manoj Singh is apprehensive that with a pandemic raging and the socio-economic conditions worsening, many others may resort to desperate steps. Leaders and activists like Panwar and conscientious officials do not disagree.

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