Three States at the time of Pandemic


K. Sahadevan

Kerala, Odisha and Gujarat. Three states with different political, socio-economic backgrounds. It would be interesting to analyse how all these three state governments dealing with the epidemic of Covid19. Kerala is a state that has neglected the production sectors out its economic activities. The ‘Gujarat Model’ is notoriously famous for its corporate appeasement, low investment in the social sector and also its communal hatreds. Naveen Patnaik, who has shown no hesitation in allowing the state's public resources to multinational corporations, had been in office for the last two decades as the ruler to address the basic needs of the underprivileged and earn their trust.  Here I am attempting to analyse how all these three governments have worked in dealing with a common disaster.

With a population of over 3.48 crore and an area of 39,000 sq km Kerala has a long history of achievement in the social sector. In terms of education and health and other human development index, it is undoubtedly far beyond any other Indian state. Ever since the birth of the state, Kerala has adopted a democratic system, every five years that alternates between the two fronts. Kerala has the reputation of being a vigilant state with its civil society movements. It is true that the these Civil Society movement has been vigilant in influencing many government decisions in the state.

We know that Kerala has adopted a development and planning strategy that emphasizes the service sector which is termed as tertiary sector, while the lion part of its economy is depended on the remittance mostly from the GCC’s.  In addition to this, lottery and liquor are the other main source of income and salaries for employees are the main expenditure. Unlike in the past, two severe floods happened in 2018 and 2019 which is devastated the state economy. The state has suffered a financial loss of about Rs 25,000-30,000 crore in the 2018 floods alone.  It can be said that the state and civil society have shown great vigilance in dealing with both floods.



Battling Covid19
At a very early stage, when the world was facing the threat of Covid 19, the State Government was able to recognize its potential for global expansion. As a state with one tenth’s of its population are international travelers, the government were vigilant and took all sorts of safety measures to prevent the pandemic spreading.  In particular, the state government has been able to reduce the spread of the virus by enabling students who have returned from China to be placed in quarantine, and to monitor the people who were coming from abroad. Apart from the initial chaos of the lockdown, the state has done well in terms of patient care, testing, social distancing and quarantine. According to the official statistics (up to 10th May), there were 505 confirmed cases of Covid in Kerala, 485 cases of cure, 3 deaths and 35,886 tests. 

Kerala's victory over the pandemic is a matter of debate all over the world. Discussions on Kerala's flatten curve" took place in the Washington Post and various international forums. Even the central government commented that Kerala's performance against Covid19 was excellent. The Government of Kerala has announced Rs 20,000 crores as a financial package to fight the pandemic. The government has announced a number of programs, such as community kitchens, sample tests, Insurance for Health Workers, early allocation of pensions, rations for needy people. The government, which is controlled by the left parties, took extra care for guest workers and provided them food and other assistances. The goverment also provided special attention to bring back the workers who are in abroad.


Odisha, which is considered as ‘India's poorest state’ with a population of over four billion, is three times the size of Kerala. Odisha ranks 32nd on the Human Development Index, behind other states in terms of literacy and per capita consumption. Orissa has the most important place in the mineral map of India. However, the main occupation of the people is agriculture and allied industries. Orissa has the distinction of being the largest exporter of labor force to other states in India. 

The largest migrant workers from Odisha are in Surat, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai and other Indian cities. It is estimated that one-sixth of the total migrant workers in Kerala are from Odisha. Odisha is one of the state where floods and storms hit the region year after year. In 1999, a super-cyclone that struck the Odisha coast claimed tens of thousands of lives.  Subsequently, extreme weather events severely damaged the Odisha coast off the Bay of Bengal. Even though the extremely severe cyclonic storm ‘Fani’has caused widespread destruction in the state in 2019, the government succeeded to reduce the death toll less than 100. Over 10 lakh people were displaced within 24 hours. Naveen Patnaik, who has ruling Odisha for 20 consecutive years since 2000, is a person who doesn't even know the language of his own state. Naveen, who had lived away from Odisha for much of his life, has concentrated on state politics after the demise of his father Biju Patnaik, former Chief Minister of Odisha. After a shortime alliance with right-wing BJP, Naveen took steps to strengthen his own party, the Biju Janata Dal, and won a brutal majority in the assembly. As a ruler, Naveen has tried to persuade the people through populist programs. Naveen Patnaik is a man who has shown no hesitation in giving multinational companies the rich mineral resources of Odisha. It is a fact that this clever ruler is trying to focus on the basic needs of the people while making every effort to provide the necessary to companies varied from Posco to Vedanta. Even as the Modi wave swept across the country in 2019, it was Naveen Patnaik's populist policies that gave the BJD its fifth consecutive term. The BJD-led government has been able to effectively implement the strategy of delivering the needs of the grassroots, while the systemic corruption continues.

Take the example of the 2018 event alone. When the floods hit Kerala in 2018, the Chief Minister of Odisha paid special attention to provide adequate care for the trapped Odisha workers. The day after when I spoke with the Minister of Labor, Odisha, a senior official from the Labor Commissionerate reached Kochin and arranged free train bogies for the workers to go home.

He succeeded in convincing the people that the government was with him. These are the places where NaveenBabu is a favorite of Odisha; I think. Naveen Patnaik also holds the record for sending the highest number of women to parliament with 38% representation in the 2019 general elections. “Kalya Yojana”, announced in 2018 to help farmers, has gained tremendous acceptance among the people.

An analysis of Odisha politics has often come to the conclusion that the people of Odisha are under the patrons of the rulers and rejoice in their mercy. This is a flaw in the proper understanding of Odisha politics.

Odisha is a state that has witnessed fierce people struggles against wrong decisions taken by governments.  In fact, there is no other state that has led and won such strong protests against multinationals. It was the Kondh tribe, from Niyamagiri, that led the epic struggle against the multinational mining giant Vedanta. The countless people’s struggles and their victories, such as Posco, Chilka, Baliapal, Gandharmdan and Kashipur, are indicative of how powerful the mass movements in Odisha are. In 1999, the Sangh Parivar attempted to bring about communal segregation in state politics by killing Christian missionary Graham Stein and his two children. While the Kandhamal riots of 2007 and the Bhadrak riots of 2016 have been used by the Sangh Parivar as a means of gaining influence in the state. However, the people of Odisha in general prefer to turn their back on communal politics.

Battling Covid19
It seems that the knowledge gained from the past experience in dealing with the disaster has helped the Odisha government to deal with the Covid 19. According to The Wire article, Naveen Patnaik was the first person to convince the Prime Minister of India about the seriousness of the virus spread.  There are also indications that the Chief Minister of Odisha had initially informed the PM about the steps the country should take. It is a fact that the number of foreign travelers is very low in the state has contributed to the decrease in the corona virus spread. However, the Orissa government was able to equip the state's health sector in the first phase of the virus outbreak.

The Government of Odisha launched its Covid Portal on March 3 to make people aware of Covid spread. Even the central government is launching such a web based information system much later.

The Odisha government announced a four-month advance salary for the health workers and provided them a secure work environment.

The government has also initiated measures to provide food for migrant workers within the state as it is the most sensitive to the issues of migrant workers. The government easily converts the community halls, which are built in various parts of the state as flood relief camps, into quarantine centers. The authorities were also able to distribute food grains and various pension funds to the families who were deprived of income, without delay. Recognizing that Rabi harvesting can disrupt by the lockdown the authorities have allowed agricultural activities during the second lockdown period. And the MNREGA activities also permitted during the second and third phase of lockdown. The state has, to some extent, been able to ensure future food security. The Odisha government is also trying to repatriate its workers trapped in other states even under strict restrictions. It is exemplary that in the war against Covid19 the government has been able to overcome all obstacles and reduce the spread of the disease. According to the government's statistics (May 10), there were 362 positive cases of Covid19 in the state, in which 68 were cured, and 3 died. There were 59,780 samples tested. It seems that the success of the Odisha, to contain the pandemic, has not been so much discussed because its backwardness in PR work.

It is also an opportunity to assess how the ‘Gujarat Model’ has been working during the pandemic. Gujarat is the state which marked its place as India’s industrial corridor even before the BJP was born. However, Narendra Modi has always tried to project himself as the vikaspurush of Gujarat. He has succeeded in doing so through the propaganda of the media and corporate giants.

The industrial corridor, which stretches from Vapi to Ankleshwar, has a long history of being the center of big business, from the diamond trade to the chemical industry. The history of India's maritime trade has started through the ports of Gujarat. Attempts to achieve industrial growth using the entrepreneurial spirit of the Gujarati people have a long history. Narendra Modi, the self proclaimed vikaspurush, is completely rejecting this history, and the corporate media in India fully support it.

The first BJP government was founded in 1995 in Gujarat. The Keshubhai Patel-led government have been in power for eight months and then Suresh Mehta became the CM and led the government. Except a short period Shankar Singh as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, In the later years, Gujarat became the safest state of the BJP.

The Gujarati people were destined to go through a number of natural and man-made disasters, such as the 1994 plague, the 2001 earthquake, the 2002 communal riots and the 2006 Surat flood.

The fact is that the Sangh Parivar, which transformed Gujarat as a laboratory of communal hatred and spread Gujarat's racist model across the country, could not learn anything from the natural disasters and take steps to save the lives of the people. In the context of the spread of Covid, it is understandable that they have failed to adopt disaster prevention measures, drawing lessons from fighting plague and other natural disasters.

Gujarat is notorious for being the lowest-investment state in education and health. Just look at the number of hospital beds in the state. Gujarat has an estimated GDP of Rs 2,26,130 per person, which has only 0.55 hospital beds per 1,000 people. At the same time, Odisha, which accounts for almost half of the Gujarat GDP per capita, has the same number of hospital beds (National Helth Profile). The Global Hunger Report, Reports of NFHS and UNICEF repeatedly point out that Gujarat is one of the states with the highest prevalence of malnutrition. Today, Gujarat is experiencing the impact of the government's reduction in investments in health, education and social security. The entire Gujarati people are suffering the consequences of this wrong model.

Battling Covid19
Gujarat is one of the states where Covid 19 has approached the epidemic with a high incidence of morbidity and mortality. According to government figures released on May 10th, the total number of positive cases in the state is 8194. The number of cured cases are 2545 and number of deaths are 493. The total number of tests were 113492. Gujarat is the second most Covid affected state in the country after Maharashtra.

Gujarat tops the list of seven states in India with the highest number of coronavirus cases, according to an IIT Delhi study. The rate of reproduction (R0) of coronavirus at an average of 1.8 in the national level, it is 3.3 in Gujarat.

The central government was aware of the pandemic and its serious consequences in the early stage. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, issued a notification on Covid 19 on January 17, 2020. However, the Gujarat government has been busy to organise millions of people to welcome US President Donald Trump on February 24. At the same time, Kerala, which was the first state confronted with coronavirus, has been taking safety measures to prevent the pandemic spreading.

The disease was first detected in areas such as Jamalpur, Shahpur, Dani Limda, Khadia, Behrampura and Raigarh. But the government has not taken any steps to make the health systems function effectively. There was widespread criticism that the authorities were unable to provide adequate hospital facilities to the corona positive patients. Jignesh Mewani MLA released a video of 25 of Covid19 patients waiting outside the Ahmedabad civil hospital for hours without receiving treatment.

There seems to be no other communally divided state in India even with epidemics. The disease centers in Ahmedabad, which is known as the city of ghettos, will make this clear. The most affected areas are Jamalpur, Shahpur, Danilimda and Behrampura, where the Muslim population is the largest and Khadia and Raikhad are the areas where the dalit population reside. There were widespread rumors about those who had returned from the Tabligh conference. At the same time, those who returned from the Tablig conference were tested in Orissa, and those who had been diagnosed with the virus were given timely care.

Gujarat is one of the largest employers of migrant workers. But it is also the state that has failed to provide adequate facilities for migrant workers. In Surat and Ahmedabad, we saw the workers were protesting in the streets during the lockdown. The government has adopted a method of handing over all responsibilities to the NGOs, including food supplies. The government has failed to give rations, provide free meals and hand over money to the people.

Gujarat has the largest number of workers in the unorganized sector in India (94%). Gujarat is one of the states which spend very little in the health sector (Rs 2,329 / year / person). On the other hand, the poorest state of Orissa is ranked 10th in per capita revenue expenditure in the health sector (2018-19).     

We have seen how the three states with different political and economic backgrounds dealt with the common catastrophe that has plagued the country.  The fact that the so-called "Gujarat Model" is failing to ensure the health safety of the public is evident here. Ironically, Gujarat, which has spent Rs 3,000 crore on the statue, has no money to spend the safety of the people.

It is a reality that the Government of Kerala has succeeded in making effective use of social security systems that have been developed over the years.  It is also true that the vigilance and involvement of grassroots civil society movements have always been reflected in the decisions of the state. Odisha's success in fighting the epidemic has been the result of utilizing its rich experience in dealing with past disasters.

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May 15, 2020

K Sahadevan

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