Barely four months into being elected as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray is faced with a crisis that none of his predecessors have encountered. A state under lockdown, dearth in essential services, a medical crisis looming on the horizon - the coronavirus pandemic has been a test for every Chief Minister in the country. Perhaps more so for the Maharashtra CM because the state has emerged as the epicentre of the epidemic.
CM Thackeray and his cabinet has garnered much praise on social media over the last two weeks for the calm and collected manner in which they have handled the crisis so far. Here’s a look at the steps taken by the Maharashtra government to tackle the deadly virus.
Maharashtra has recorded 135 COVID-19 positive cases and at least 4 deaths so far - this is the highest in the country. With a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases being observed daily, the Maharashtra government has also looped in private testing labs and hospitals to screen and treat patients.
From Kasturba Hospital initially shouldering the entire burden of treating coronavirus patients single-handedly, eight other BMC hospitals have now also been roped in. These are - KEM Hospital, Sion Hospital, Cooper Hospital, Nair Hospital, HBT Trauma Hospital in Jogeshwari, Bhabha Hospitals in Bandra and Kurla and Rajawadi Hospital in Ghatkhopar.
Eleven private hospitals that are also treating COVID-19 patients are - Breach Candy Hospital, HN Reliance Hospital, Lilavati Hospital, Raheja Hospital, Hinduja Hospital, Fortis Mulund Hospital, Bombay Hospital, Wockhardt Hospitals, Kokilaben Ambani Hospital, Nanavati Hospital and Hiranandani Hospital.
Since this move came about early, health experts predict that Mumbai at least is unlikely to experience any shortage in healthcare infrastructure facilities in the near future.
"“Enough hospital beds are already there. It just needs to be commissioned. We have the entire Seven Hills Hospital at our disposal. So, 300 beds have already been earmarked for this purpose and that is a huge amount. Other hospitals, too have been roped in. For example, I am an honorary surgeon at the Balasaheb Thackeray Trauma Center at Jogeshwari (E), so we have a complete bed ward over there. The burns ward has been converted into a COVID-19 ward for isolation. We are commissioning as the need arises. We have yet not run out of beds. In the present scenario, I don’t think we will run out of beds.”" - Dr Parthiv Sanghvi, Former Secretary, IMA Maharashtra
Responding to the argument that Maharashtra is tackling the coronavirus crisis better that a few other states in India, Dr Sanghvi believes CM Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to impose home quarantine at the initial stages of the outbreak has definitely helped.
“For a simple reason, we are much better than the other states because we are one week ahead of them. That one week is a big advantage we have. The PM has announced the 21-day (lockdown) now, my CM has already announced one week ago for a 15-day quarantine. We have that one-week advantage that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The one-week advantage has really helped us,” said Dr Parthiv Sanghvi.
What About Rural Maharashtra?
The situation is slightly different in rural Maharashtra, where access to facilities like hospitals and testing centres is limited. Director Professor of Medicine at MGIMS Sevagram, Dr SP Kalantri, pointed out that although the facilities do exist, the problem is that those are only concentrated in big cities or big hospitals. Hurdles like accessing transport at a time when the entire country is under lockdown has been a problem for many patients living in villages.
"“At least where I live, the Wardha district in Maharashtra, there are two medical schools. Ours is a non-profit organisation, the other one is a small profit medical school. So between us, we have about 180 ICU beds and 88 mechanical ventilators. The district hospital has four mechanical ventilators, but they do not have skilled man-power to run those ventilators.” " - Dr SP Kalantri, Director Professor of Medicine at MGIMS Sevagram
Lack of skilled medical staff is not the only problem. “Another problem you see is that the government is still not agreeing that community transmission in on. They have made the tests slightly broad-based. Right now, they are starting to offer it to the patients admitted with serious and acute risks of infections and also to the healthcare workers who are symptomatic in the hospital. But when it comes to the public, it is restricted”, said Dr Kalantri.
"“Unless we pick up those asymptomatic individuals from the public or symptomatic individuals from the general population, we’ll not be able to figure out the true burden of the disease.”" - Dr SP Kalantri, Director Professor of Medicine at MGIMS Sevagram
Sources told The Quint that the state government is considering dedicating one hospital in every district of Maharashtra for treatment of coronavirus patients. This could mean 36 hospitals in total that could definitely help patients in the rural areas.
State Govt Might Need to Shell out Rs 15,000 Cr
Home to a massive workforce of migrant labourers, Maharashtra, like every other state has been witnessing a mass exodus of labourers. With no work and no pay for weeks now, thousands of workers are forced to walk hundreds of kilometres to reach their home at this time of the crisis. The state government is yet to announce any package for daily wage labourers who are the worst hit.
ET Now had reported that the Maharashtra government had planned to grant funds from the Building and Other Construction Workers' Welfare (BOCW) Cess Fund to the two lakh labourers registered with the state. However, there has been no announcement by the government executing this yet.
Aside from labourers, workers in other informal sectors like taxi and autorickshaw drivers are just as badly hit. Just how much would this crisis affect the state coffers? Former Maharashtra finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar breaks it down for The Quint.
"“If we look at setting aside a package to deal with this crisis, the Maharashtra government will have to spend at least Rs 15,000 crore. There will be a need to establish a separate package worth Rs 10,000 -15,000 crores for the farmers, daily wage labourers, rickshaw drivers and others. And in all of this, our income is going to be reduced.”" - Sudhir Mungantiwar, BJP leader and former Maharashtra Finance Minister
He further adds, “In March, our state usually collects revenue worth around Rs 35,000-40,000 crores. At this time, if shops are shut down, so there will be no GST, there will be no excise because there will be no purchase or sale of vehicles, and there won’t be any income. I think out of the Rs 35,000 crore that we receive in March, the only amount we will get is about Rs 16,000 crore that’s received online from the big industries. Apart from that, we are not going to receive a single rupee. The worry here is that the expenditure has tripled and the income will decrease.”
Pointing out the need to strike a balance between the social factor and businesses at a time like this, Sudhir Mungantiwar says, “We need to prevent the divide between the big scale business and the small workers or else the chain will break. We really need to work a lot in Maharashtra and we need to work wisely. Because, if the time comes, then all our deposits, be it of the Maharashtra government or any other state government, we will have to step ahead of our rules and make use of these deposits to help push the economy in the time of crisis.”
CM Uddhav Thackeray Praised for Handling Crisis
CM Uddhav Thackeray’s leadership, since the onslaught of the COVID-19 crisis, has garnered much praise from political quarters and even Mumbaikars. Opting for a gradual lockdown from 16 March in Maharashtra, switching to digital communication for press conferences, clarifying the stand on essential services even when the country indulged in panic buying after PM Modi’s announcement of a nationwide lockdown, these are just a few measures of the Uddhav Thackeray led government that have been praised.
Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat, who is also the Maharashtra Congress president, told PTI that though the state government is a three party-set up (comprising the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress), the Chief Minister’s word is final. If all the 43 ministers start talking on different television channels, there would be chaos, he said.
"“When the Chief Minister talks to district collectors, divisional commissioners, municipal commissioners across the state, I am present at the meeting along with Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and other bureaucrats. Pawar then holds talks with me, Home minister (Anil Deskhmukh) and other officials to take stock of the lockdown in the state. The responsibility for each minister is to monitor situation in the district of which he is the guardian minister”" - Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat to PTI
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