Neighbouring States should choke the virus cohesively. Why not activate panels like the NCR Planning Board?
When Delhi began expanding in all directions and there wasn’t enough space for its residents to afford, they moved to the periphery while working in the big city. Gradually, this birthed satellite towns with their own eco-systems of suburban living and attendant infrastructure. In fact, Gurugram, Noida, Faridabad and Ghaziabad have emerged as better planned cities of the future and are now home to the national headquarters of top corporates. But the fluidic contiguity of peoPioneerple, who chased ambition in one and a comfortable living in the other, has meant that they got blended in a concept called the National Capital Region or (NCR). In other words, lives were apportioned among these extended territories around the power capital. And so thick is the shared co-existence and mutual acknowledgment that it is difficult to isolate the strands of what each is made up of. A residency certificate is just not enough to define the original Dilliwallah. In that sense, the Kejriwal Government’s decision to restrict access to private and its own public hospitals to citizens of Delhi, following the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in the city, did seem exclusionary and isolationist. Granted that the pandemic is poised to see its worst days over the next month, with five lakh cases predicted in Delhi alone, but the open borders and all kinds of to and fro activities mean that the swell won’t spare the rest of NCR either. And if the spiral stresses hospitals in Delhi, then it will also impact hospitals in NCR, some of which are franchise extensions of big facilities in Delhi and, in fact, are into cross-referencing their patients. Yes, the Delhi Government had spared only oncology, transplants, neurosurgery and medico-legal cases from its facilities and transferred the rest of the outsider cases to Central facilities like AIIMS but that would also overload those spaces and disproportionately complicate the disease burden. So beyond the politics, Lt Governor Anil Baijal’s overriding order, allowing everybody to access hospitals without discrimination prioritises the right of every Indian to seek health services anywhere in the country. It is this right which has been exercised for years now, with most residents of NCR having treatment history in Delhi, some of them so old and trusted that suddenly changing that paradigm overnight would lead to further anxiety for a COVID-19 patient, who may rely on opinion at the hospital he is used to than elsewhere. Besides, there are fears of an influx although the reality is that hospitals in Noida and Gurugram are also reaching saturation point, which means NCR residents have shown up for COVID treatment there and only those requiring specialist intervention may have moved to Delhi. Besides, most VIPs from Delhi access the super-speciality facility of Medanta in Gurugram given its proven expertise. Does that mean ordinary citizens are exempted from this privilege which is theirs by right? Governance has to be about the wisdom of the executive, particularly during a crisis such as this, to address all citizens as one. Creating walls within the NCR won’t wall off the pandemic.
The fact of the matter is that Delhi alone is not facing a grim situation. The public health crisis has swamped NCR and, therefore, there should be a cohesive strategy to combat it, sharing resources, expertise and experience. Frightening reports of hospitals not testing suspected cases because they can’t process them in the given turnaround time, big facilities turning away even critical patients and people dying at homes without treatment indicate that Governments have lost control. Yet that need not be so. There is an NCR Planning Board, an inter-state institution created expressly for regional planning. Why can’t this be empowered to share and monitor containment strategies now? For example, the medical protocol itself is different in Delhi and satellite towns. Home isolation is allowed for positive cases in Delhi but not uniformly in NCR. Even within Delhi, while the Government has facilitated asymptomatic and mild patients to stay at home, the administration is still following a three-month old protocol of moving such cases to a COVID care centre. Testing protocols are intensive in patches and dots, not uniform. It is precisely to avoid such confusion that the Chief Ministers of the three States should work on a unified protocol. The pandemic has shown how even a local level lapse can transmit the virus in an unimaginable chain reaction. If State Governments can work on cooperative federalism, with specialist doctors being paratrooped to worst-hit hotspots, Kerala and Rajasthan sharing their models and findings, there won’t be any justification for Delhi standing apart. Particularly, for the Kejriwal Government, which has made an example of the need for a broad-based access to public healthcare through its mohalla clinics. As we run out of beds and ventilators and with cases multiplying furiously, it is time to scale up makeshift arrangements by taking over stadia, institution premises and available public spaces in the region. Delhi is still far short of the 30,000 beds it needs while the projected requirement till July 31 is 80,000 beds. UP has one lakh beds for patients statewide though Noida and Ghaziabad are already bulging. The virus will need many gatekeepers to choke it.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)