The mystery of covid vaccines in India

Today I write after a month of extreme stress in my home country. We saw heart-rending pleas for oxygen, plasma, medicine, etc on social media. Our governments were caught napping and basking in false bravado. This one month has destroyed the image of an emerging superpower, which was carefully being nurtured by the current govt. But despite all the missteps, there has been one glaring policy that has been appalling. End of April the Modi Govt decided to decentralize the decision-making process for the covid fight. At the peak of the second wave, the states were suddenly left to fend for themselves with vaccine acquisition being a state responsibility. At the same time, the govt announced everybody would be eligible for vaccinations without taking into account the vaccine stocks available or the vaccine manufacturing capacity as no advance orders were placed.

First, I would talk about our homegrown vaccine, Covaxin. They used old and tried and tested methodology of using an attenuated strain of the infecting virus for designing a vaccine. On paper, it was one of the best approaches but the issue was a lack of data. Despite the robustness of the approach, hard data is required to trust the vaccine. Just for reference by January 2021, Pfizer, Astra Zeneca, and Moderna, all vaccines for covid19, released their phase 3 clinical trials data but it was only in March Covaxin published its phase 2 clinical trials data in a peer-reviewed journal while phase 3 data haven’t been released publicly but the company has claimed an 81% efficacy without any peer review.

Second, the approvals for the Pfizer vaccine were withheld because Pfizer wants protection from any claims arising due to the vaccine use while Moderna is yet to apply for certification in India. Why the govt. hasn’t been proactive in soliciting more vaccines including the single-shot Jannsen vaccine is a mystery. Other than that, one of the arguments I have heard is that none of the above-mentioned vaccines have been tested on Indians. Despite my limited knowledge of vaccines and clinical trials, I can just say that this is a pandemic and I am sure many people of Indian origin and Indians living abroad have been administered the vaccines without any major adverse events, and on top of that a vaccine which is safe for use in the majority of the western world wouldn’t essentially have severe side effects. Even an expedited process could have been designed for the Indian context given that Covaxin was approved for use in India despite having no efficacy data.

Third point is the definite opening up of vaccinations for all. The govt. could have managed the whole process better and on this, I can always sympathize with the govt. because given the scale of vaccinations there can be no foolproof manner to go about it. The only thing where the govt. slipped up was ordering enough vaccines. Last week of April announcement gave the state govt and the central govt one week to place all the orders and the vaccine companies to start manufacturing like a billion doses which in an ideal scenario would have taken a year or so. Vaccine manufacturing can’t simply be scaled up so fast.

This pandemic has exposed the lack of knowledge in our politicians and they are busy managing their image instead of solving problems. The Delhi CM, an engineer from one of the elite institutes of India decides to kick up an international diplomatic storm by classifying a Singapore variant of the virus which is the Indian variant in Singapore. Oops sorry, there are no Indian variants because that is insulting the country.

The dawn of a ‘NEW’ New Delhi

Recently the Government of India started work on the process of a 900 crore new Parliament building adjacent to the old Parliament which is almost a century old. On the flip side, it sounds like a very sound decision. An old building may not make sense to spend loads of money to future proof it. But the problem isn’t the new Parliament but wider redevelopment plans envisaged by the current ruling government of Shri Narendra Modi.

Why am I against the redevelopment, you may ask? I am against the redevelopment not due to my political leanings but rather more practical reasons. The first problem I have is the issue with congestion. The new plans envisage not only a new parliament but more buildings which will come up after demolishing some old buildings and destroying a significant green area. Amongst the new buildings, a new residence for the PM, and a huge office secretariat complex to unify all the ministries at the same place as planned. The reasoning behind the whole idea is that it will increase efficiency in the functioning of the ministries. But then comes my question, with the govt. Of India pushing for a ‘Digital India’, the physical proximity of offices sound like hyperbole. New Delhi, the central area despite being very well planned is still choc-a-bloc with traffic and centralizing all offices is going to make it only worse. If anything we have learned from the Covid pandemic is the ability to embrace remote working and it kinda worked despite our misgivings. Hence again I am not sold on the idea of centralizing the offices in a single place.

The second problem I have is with destroying the character of the area. The area is full of public spaces with loads of green cover. The govt. Plans to plant 10 times the trees which would be cut down albeit at a different location. Here we are talking about cutting down very old trees. I will just put in an image of the current vista(courtesy: Newslaundry).

Central Vista (Credits: World Monuments Fund)

Also with the new buildings coming up, p[ublic spaces would be severely curtailed. No on paper, we will have more(?) public space but whom are we kidding? With new offices would come security perimeters because it would be housing some of the most important Govt. officials at one location and in our country, security is more of a sign of status rather than a necessity (Half of our parliamentarians have criminal cases against them). I really don’t care about demolishing many of the ‘bhawans’ as they hardly add to the architecture and many of them are actually eyesores.

But again I believe that the government wants is to create a legacy. It is similar to what the medieval kings upon coming to power, build a new fort and city to celebrate and cement their legacy. So, despite despising the Mughal rulers of India, here we have the leaders of the ruling dispensation is busy emulating them. One of the lasting impacts of such projects is it creates employment. But in the midst of a pandemic, one would wonder that spending 20k odd crores on a vanity project when the healthcare system of the country has been found to be more than wanting makes any sense or not, I will let the readers make their own judgment calls.

The story of second class Indians

A town around 200km away from the national capital of India is a quaint town named Hathras. Hathras was once known for its cotton and nowadays known as the largest producer of hing(asafoetida) a condiment essential in Indian kitchens and also holi colors. So why is this insignificant town the topic of discussion today? Because on the night of 14 September, a girl was gang-raped by 4 men in a field while cutting grass to feed the cattle. Her neck was broken, her tongue was gut and she was strangled with her own dupatta. She didn’t die but fought on for the next 15 days before succumbing to her injuries. In between, she was moved from the district hospital to Aligarh hospital and finally to the Safdarjung hospital where she regained consciousness for a few moments and gave the names of the alleged rapists. She was brave and fought for her life but maybe we didn’t deserve her to live. I won’t talk about caste, religion, or any other similar reasons which are being used to gain some political points.

This story is about the second class citizens of India, who live in tier 2/3 cities of India. In a wintry Delhi evening on 12 December 2012, a girl who was named Nirbhaya for her indomitable fighter spirit, was brutally gang-raped by 4 men in a moving bus, his friend brutally beaten and both were left to die beside the road. Sadly Nirbhaya passed away after fighting on for 14 days. It led to a wave of anger and protests, people across the country hit the streets protesting against the deteriorating state of law and order and increasing cases of violence against women. The media backed the citizens and there was a flurry of debates, opinion pieces, and coverage of the protests and police action. The rapists were finally executed in 2019 after 7 years which was to say the least fast by Indian judicial standards but I digress.

The gangrape of the girl from Hathras barely made the news. I traversed major Indian news sites and the major news channels and was surprised by the lack of coverage. I will start off with the so-called ‘nationalistic’ news sources. Swarajya had just one article which was also sourced from an agency feed while another champion of the right-wing Opindia which has a woman as an editor, failed to have a single article on the topic, but I did find a rape incident report for September in which two ‘Muslim’ men allegedly raped a ‘Dalit’ woman. Maybe for Opindia, this rape was juicier news than the Hathras gangrape. I went to other news sites and I will desist from commenting just have a look at the screenshots.

After the Nirbhaya case, there have been numerous rapes in India, according to Govt. of India stats in 2018, approximately over 33000 rapes were reported across the country. I will list a few heinous cases which never got any attention from the national media. In 2015, in a town named Ranaghat in West Bengal, a 72-year-old nun was gang-raped by men from across the border. In 2016, in a town called Bikaner in Rajasthan, a 17-year-old girl was raped and her body was found in a water tank in the college she was studying to be a teacher. In 2018, in Kathua in the erstwhile Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, an 8-year-old girl was raped and killed . in 2017 another 17-year-old girl was raped by a minister in the state Govt., it took her almost a year to get a FIR registered, and her whole family slowly killed off. And now this case from Hathras. If you want to read about more rape cases from smaller places in India which are gruesome yet fail to fire our imagination to protest please go through this link.

The sad part is our media is so big city-centered like if an incident doesn’t happen in a city like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, or Bangalore there is hardly any reporting. The major debates on our news channels are focussed more on drug use by celebrities, Pakistan, or other trivial topics. With increasing revenues of news channels, they are cutting their local state bureaus making ground-level hyper-local reporting a casualty. Now the news channels don’t need reporters, they just need a star anchor and have a shouting match during prime-time and are happily sponsored by major brands and at the same time being justified by increasing viewership of such mundane shows.

The noise over the passing of three farm bills in India

Recently (as usual) there was some drama over the passing of three agriculture focussed bills. The bills were passed easily through the Lok Sabha but when it came to Rajya Sabha we were witness to some legendary scenes of members of the opposition throwing rule books at the deputy chairman of the house, MP’s being thrown out of the house using house marshals, etc. So what are the bills which led to the drama? Let us see.

Bill number one was The Farmers Produce Trade & Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Bill 2020., bill number two: The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill 2020. And bill number 3: Essential Commodities(Amendment) Act 2020. So what do these bills are about? These bills seek to abolish the role of the state-run Agricultural Produce Market Committee(APMC), reducing the role of middle-men who would buy at low prices from the APMC run markets and enable direct entry of corporates to secure sales of crops. 

So prima-facie it sounds like a win-win for farmers but why are the farmers in Haryana and Punjab protesting so much? It has to do with the fact that Punjab and Haryana are the major farmers of Rice and wheat. While wheat is the staple of much of north India while the rice consumption historically has been lower. So if the sale is made in an open market, the big farmers of Punjab and Haryana growing paddy are worried that they might take huge losses due to lower demand. Other states are kind of supporting the bill as they feel corporate involvement will lead to better storage, fairer price discovery, and as a result, increased incomes for the farmers. The govt’s role would be only to regulate the market instead of directly involved in buying unsold inventory. And any which ways only 22 crops are listed by govt for Minimum Support Price(MSP) and on top of the list would be paddy and wheat. 

Frankly speaking, I have little knowledge when it comes to the farming sector in India but it does sound like a reform towards a system in Europe and the USA but the govt. Needs to have enough checks and balances to ensure that like in Europe and The USA there are huge farm subsidies by the govt. Due to a fall in farmer incomes. And this is where my objection to the bills come. The Govt. refused to have any sort of discussion on the bills in the Parliament. I would have personbally liked a debate in the parliament where we could have gleamed the actual objections, pitfalls of the bill vs the advantages of the reforms but alas this govt. chose to bulldoze its way through the p[arliament.

The curious case of Delhi Riots and the misuse of the Government machinery

So secondary charge sheets were filed in the Delhi riots case. And to people’s surprise that the Delhi Police is hell-bent on linking all anti-CAA protests to the communal riots that left North Delhi scarred. So many prominent anti-CAA protestors like Yogendra Yadav, Sitaram Yechury, Jayati Ghosh, Apoorvanand, and Umar Kahlid, and Umar Khalid has already been arrested under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act(UAPA). The funny part is a few days back a doctor from UP Dr. Kafeel AHmed who was arrested under the same act was released upon orders by the Allahabad high court and the charges under the act set aside.

Why have the people mentioned above have been named? Well, they gave speeches that exhorted the protesters to go to ‘any extent possible’ to stand against the law. The police in their hamhanded manner forgot nowhere the speeches attributed to the accused mentioned violent protests. They evoked Mahatma Gandhi, his principles, and national integration repeatedly. It is not surprising that 2 of the names in the list are professors, so if the govt. Can target the intellectuals it can scare the others into meek submission. And this is not even to do with the fact that BJP is the only party doing this.

In Maharastra, the Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut has become suddenly the beacon of hope against nepotism and drug abuse prevalent in the industry. She said many things which make no sense but the ruling Shiv-Sena govt which is in alliance with Congress decided to respond first a minister abusing her and then the local municipal authorities moving onto her house to demolish ‘illegal’ constructions. Giving a 24-hour notice to a person and then initiating action against a person who has opposing views isn’t a sign of law enforcement but rather a dictatorship. This just goes onto show doesn’t matter who is in power, they love to use power to put down opposition. 

Back to the Delhi riots and there were many prominent personalities who have voiced concern against the CAA law passed in December but if those speeches imply that a stringent anti-terror law like UAPA can be used to harass law-abiding citizens then it would put serious doubt in minds of dissenters. Many of us don’t have a safety net so if we choose to dissent against the govt, let it be policy or law we have to be scared that we might be branded terrorists and our careers ruined forever by an endless cycle of courts and becoming untouchable in the job market. This sets a dangerous precedent and reminds us of the emergency imposed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi, then the PM of India who incidentally jailed many of the leaders from the current ruling party including the PM. Hence it is more perplexing that the same leaders who have already bore the brunt of Govt. power choose to follow a similar path to cling onto power.

The story of coronavirus pandemic management in India

At the time of writing India has become the second-worst affected country by coronavirus pandemic and the number of confirmed cases stands at 4,224,014. The daily rise in cases is slowly inching up towards 100000 cases a day with no signs of the infection slowing down despite almost 3 months of lockdown. While every other country has slowed down but India seems to have bucked the trend completely and continues on the n-1th wave. This blogpost aims to highlight what went wrong in India’s fight to contain the infection.

First, I would like to add that Coronavirus is a serious disease but in a country like India where more people die of dengue, malaria, TB, etc. India as a country responded with lockdowns because unlike the other diseases this disease afflicted the poor and the rich alike. The absence of treatment compounded the problem and the middle class and the elites of the country responded in a way never seen ever at least in India. 

The govt. for a change responded quite proactively by announcing a lockdown as a response to the pandemic to slow the spread of the virus. But what the government. Did before and after announcing the lockdown left a lot to be desired. Before the lockdown was announced travellers coming from abroad were allowed to go home without any tests or any need to isolate at home. This drove the first wave and spread the disease far and wide. Only thermal scanners were deployed in the airports to check for signs of increased temperature to detect infected patients. The govt. In terms of the looming pandemic, there was still wasn’t scaling up testing for covid19. So despite being proactive mover we failed to check the infections.

Once the lockdown was announced, the Govt. failed to properly indicate the length of the lockdown. All of a sudden millions of casual workers in Indian cities were left jobless and with limited means and uncertainty surrounding the length of the lockdown decided to take the journey back to their rural homes. But there was no transport available and the workers had to literally walk hundreds of kilometers and hardly practiced social distancing and to add on there was no rule yet on compulsory usage of face coverings. So there is no study which might indicate a few infected people in those huge crowds may have helped spread the disease to the hinterlands. Testing was negligible in the big cities so you can imagine what would be the state in the hinterland.

The testing in India was very lackluster, to say the least. India hit the milestone of 1 million tests a day only on 22 August 2020, some 147 days after the first lockdown was announced. So by the time, we might be testing enough the infection has spread wide and far. And one of the most puzzling things is that the govt. Even now doesn’t admit that community transmission is rampant and maintains there is no community transmission. With over 4 million cases I wonder how well the contract tracing is going on? I will give a few examples from states which despite not being ruled by the BJP have failed in performing any better than the central govt. The first would be Delhi. Delhi was staring at a gargantuan outbreak and daily around 4000 cases were being detected with around just around 10-15 thousand tests being conducted. There were stories of hospitals overwhelmed with patients and a lack of communication to family members of patients. The central govt. Intervened and the number of tests went up and more facilities were created to help manage the situation. Slowly things started improving but again the govt. became complacent, the number of tests remained stagnant around 20 thousand when testing needed to be scaled up significantly to make sure that the virus is contained well. Now Delhi is seeing a resurgence of numbers and the Delhi govt. Is scrambling to increase the number of tests and playing a blame game with the Central govt. 

The second case would be West Bengal. From 18 July onwards WB has been reporting cases around 2000 positive cases with 13 thousand odd tests and on 6 September the figure stands at 3thousand positive cases on around 44 thousand tests. During this intervening time, the number of cases has remained constant between 2 to 3 thousand despite the number of tests tripling.  On the outside, it seems WB has everything under control and the curve has been flattened very well but when you talk to people on the ground you get to hear stories and the backlog of test results, the state of hospitals be it public or private. Given a state with WB population (Around 91 million), the testing still remains very low. But the state govt. Even now has failed to scale up testing and keeps blaming the Central govt. For lack of tests. And this despite the fact that Indian test manufacturing companies are planning to export more than 10 million test kits.

The point I was trying to make is that the govt. Be at the state level or the central level has failed miserably to rise up to the occasion. The infection is widely widespread as indicated by the serological studies in the major cities indicating more than 30% of the population might have been infected already. And now the only way to control the infection is simply to test and isolate. There is no point anymore in contact tracing. The govt. Failed to scale up testing during the first 2 months of lockdown when it could have been effectively controlled. And this should be a lesson for us and put in proper operating procedures because this is not going to be the last epidemic and a good example would be the South Korean model. I am sure India will survive this pandemic not because we have amazing governance but rather we have always managed to survive for the last 74 years despite always being at the precipice and not just falling over.

The ‘act of god’ and the Indian economy

The ‘act of god’ and the Indian economy

India faced it’s first economic contraction ever in recorded history after independence. The Indian GDP fell by 23.4% in the April-June quarter. And guess what is the headlines in some of the widely watched Indian news channels: Who or what led Sushant Singh Rajput to commit suicide? To say the least it is bizarre. So in the next few paragraphs, I will explain why the heading and what a bioinformatician feels about the Indian economy.

Just a day before the Indian economic figures were announced, the Finance minister Shrimati Nirmala Sitharaman, an alumnus of the much-maligned Indian Jawahar Lal Nehru University declared that the contraction in the Indian economy is expected and the Govt. couldn’t do much given the current coronavirus pandemic and it is a ‘ACT OF GOD’. I found the statement amusing not because she was lying but it was an easy way of deflecting the responsibility from the ruling party. I am not much of an economist but the Indian economy was already in the doldrums as the growth had slowed down to around 4% in the previous quarter reflecting a wider malaise in the economy and the pandemic simply managed to make an already bad situation worse.

The response of the Indian govt has been very strange to the slowdown brought about by the pandemic. Worldwide the major economies even the Trump govt. Decided to put more money into the hands of citizens in the form of tax cuts and COVID-specific allowance along with tax cuts for corporates so that job loss is minimized along with trying to maintain the spending by the public. On the contrary the Indian govt. Decided to provide stimulus to corporate India in the form of tax breaks which will be incurred in the future so it hardly helped the companies with the cash situation while creating uncertainty over jobs being saved over time. Nobody knew what was exactly the govt stimulus except for the fact it touted some big numbers out of which hardly 10% was a real hard cash component and the rest was to be accrued over time. A confused policy left nobody any wiser and it led to the amazing numbers as we can see today.

Now I will talk about the supporters of the govt. Look at the image below which was shared widely over the social media and many of my ‘educated’ friends sent to me.

Looking at the image we would be like ‘ Wow, at least we are not the worst-performing economy’. But the image hides lots of things. First is that the USA is the hardest hit economy and the fall in GDP reflects that but again the figure for the USA has been annualized that is calculated as a prediction for the whole year based on the previous quarter which was actually around 10% when compared to the June-mar quarter. While the Indian GDP data was for the Apr-Jun quarter(2020-21) and was the fall based on the same quarter for the year 2019-20. So the comparison isn’t exactly apples with apples but gives a certain comparison. Only UK reflects the impact of coronavirus in an economy that had the highest deaths in the European Union and the uncertainty in the economy due to the looming BREXIT. So it is now clear that the Indian economy was the worst-performing amongst the 20 biggest economies of the world.

So what is the problem with the ruling NDA govt? The problem is that the govt. is not acknowledging the economic slowdown. Second is the govt is instead of reducing the tax burden on the citizens, the govt has been increasing taxes on Petrol and Diesel, the primary fuel of the economy despite historic lows in the global prices. And not only the BJP govt but also the non-BJP state governments. are also guilty of using taxes on fuels to mop up extra revenue due to shortfall in other areas of revenue collection. The supporters of the govt. are somehow ok with historical high fuel prices when the prices are the lowest in the global market which is surprising because once upon a time the same people were furious over the previous govt when they had tried to de-regulate fuel prices and make it based on global prices when the global prices were above 100$/barrel. The govt. Somehow doesn’t have its ears to the ground and joblessness and lack of new opportunities are building resentment in the large youth population of India. The only thing that is saving the ruling party in the elections is the lack of a credible face in the opposition ranks. The opposition needs a charismatic mass leader otherwise this govt. Will keep getting a free license to keep getting away with murder.

The next quarter will determine the real quantum of the economic slump in India. With the economy opening up and the surge of cases in COVID patients in India somehow I am a bit skeptical of the economic outlook. The govt. As usual, is managing the headlines in the major media outlets spectacularly. The only bit of positive news coming out of India right now is from the Indo-china border with the Indian armed forces flexing its muscles and thwarting the attempts by the Chinese PLA to alter the status quo at the disputed border. For a change, India has acted proactively after the setbacks in the past few months and it has taken the upper hand in the border skirmishes.

India and its Lockdown experiences

India decided to go on lockdown on 24th March when the number of cases of COVID19 patients stood at 200. For the first time, the Indian government took a step proactively to save lives and save the country from a pandemic. It was amazing when many of the western countries were debating lockdowns India had already done it.

So India did exceedingly well on the step one of the processes of containing COVID19 infection. But what followed the lockdown has exposed the deficiency in the Indian healthcare system run by both the central govt and the state govt. The second positive step was India slowly became a big manufacturer of PPE kits for healthcare workers. Given what was happening in Europe and the USA, it was deemed prudent India needed complete lockdown to tide over the crisis.

Today I will just focus on the lack of planning and failure of the govt and the elephant of a bureaucracy. The health bulletins by the Ministry of Health in India have been shambolic, to say the least, and from April end have been infrequent. In times of crisis, you would assume the government would be communicating on a regular basis. I currently live in Australia and have seen daily press conferences by the Prime minister, the health minister, and the Chief medical officer followed by the state premier, health minister, and chief medical officer. They are there not only to rattle off random numbers but also to take questions from the journalists and allay concerns of the public. While in India the PM chooses a televised address or a radio show to communicate while the health Minister randomly appears for press conferences.

The major mistake was a lack of testing. In India, the ICMR was made the nodal agency and it was thought that an agency led by doctors would do amazing. The government didn’t take into account the fact that a) it was run by doctors and b) They have no experience in administrative matters and how to cut through the bureaucratic clutter. Not once did I see a committee of epidemiologists being created by the government to model the disease spread. ICMR failed to stockpile enough testing kits or enable Indian manufacturers to get accredited testing kits and production up on time.

The first 25 days of the lockdown India was conducting barely 10000 tests a day. And even in the first week of May, there was a backlog of samples to be tested which stretched to 5-6 days. And now we are seeing an explosion in the number of cases. ON a daily basis we are getting 5000+ cases when we are almost 55 days into lockdown. It is clear we are in the community transmission phase of the disease but the Government refuses to use that term in any of the briefings. The govt. has decided to relax lockdown rules because the economy is in doldrums and it has caused a great humanitarian crisis in India which I will cover later.

Anti/Pro CAA protests in Northeast Delhi

A sad day indeed when a Policeman Rattan Lal and 4 civilians died in the clashes between Anti-CAA protestors, Pro-CAA protestors, and the Delhi Police. I will write what I feel and might be tagged many of the names people nowadays call and even be told I am not taking a stand. I am taking a stand just not taking any side.

The anti-CAA protestors mobilized and set up a protest near the Jafrabad Metro station and blocked the road 66. While protesting is a genuine form of dissent but I wouldn’t support the inconveniencing of the general public for protests. Blocking a road is bad at best. If you have to set up an additional site of protests go and lay siege on the India gate or where the PM stays or the parliament. Inconveniencing the general public is the best way to lose support for a cause and the anti-CAA protestors have shown utter disregard for the rest of the Indian citizens.

The protests were going on with Police trying to move them. But then a BJP leader Kapil Mishra gives a fiery speech in presence of Policemen, saying that the protestors would be removed if the police fail to do its job. The leader wasn’t arrested but allowed to roam around despite inciting crowds. What happened after that was appalling, to say the least. Videos shot by people show a different kind of images. Like the Police pelting stones, and beating up already injured people and forcing them to sing the national anthem while kicking them and saying things like ‘deta hu tujhe aazadi’. The police were also seen to be helping the ‘protestors’ trying to remove the protestors and doing nothing when a group was clashing with the other.

Another shocking image from the protests was a gun-wielding man shooting some rounds towards the police and was part of anti-CAA protestors. The argument of self-defense doesn’t allow anybody to just wield a gun and shoot. The anti-CAA protestors have misunderstood the support for the cause as the people being tolerant towards supporting the blocking of roads etc. Just beacuse people have been understanding of the blockade at Shaheen Bagh doesn’t give the anti-CAA protestors to block other roads. At the same time, the conduct of Delhi Police was bad, to say the least, and the way they allowed the pr-CAA protestors to go on a rampage was abhorrent.

The question isn’t about who started the violence first. The problem is a public road was being blocked in the name of freedom of expression and protest while another group of pro-govt. goons were allowed to go on a rampage while the police watched. In the end, 5 Indians died and till now neither the gunman has been arrested nor the politician inciting violence has been arrested.

Chernobyl is Phenomenal is it Time for a series on the Bhopal Tragedy?

A few years before Chernobyl happened, a disaster of similar proportions unfolded in the sleepy capital of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal. In a pesticide manufacturing factory owned by the Union Carbide Corporation of the USA, on the night of 2nd December 1984, Methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas was accidentally leaked which resulted in immediate death of around 2500 people with another 8000 people dying within two weeks of the event and a further 8000 dying later due to after effects of the gas leak. More than half a million people were exposed to the gas and are still suffering from the aftereffects. Bhopal Gas tragedy is the worst industrial disaster of modern times. Just to put into perspective, the Chernobyl disaster affected around 200000 people.

So why do we never get to hear much in the popular media about the Bhopal Gas tragedy? Is it because the company behind the disaster was American. Why did the US govt. fail to extradite the people responsible for the disaster back to India for prosecution or failed to prosecute themselves. It is strange because in the US people file all kind of cases against leaders/govts. across the world and the federal US govt is more than happy to admit cases against the Iran govt. or the ex Libyan Dictator but not the management of a chemical company tells you a story of hidden agendas. The Indian govt. didn’t exactly cover itself in glory and let the perpetrators get away from India and helped in all ways to minimize the compensation to be paid by the company. Even the cleanup efforts have faltered and the groundwater is slowly being poisoned by the chemicals in the factory. The next few sections will focus on the tragedy itself and the apathy of successive Indian govts. and use of bribery as methods for companies to get away with crimes.
People woke up in the middle of a cold December night with burning eyes, coughing and a burning sensation in the throat. People woke up to gas seeping through the doors and ran out of their houses to see bodies of animals and people scattered on the streets with many others stumbling across already half blind by the gas fumes. The US chemical giant which was known as the Union Carbide which was later merged with Dow chemicals and now part of the US giant named DowDupont. The hospitals in the city were ill-equipped to handle so many people and they had no clue what they were up against.

Just a glimpse of the night is enough to send shivers down one’s spine. This wasn’t the first leak which happened in the chemical plant. There are at least 3 instances of chemical leakage happening being documented officially before the fateful night. I came across this archival report in The NewYork Times, and it beautifully lists out all the lapses on the part of the Union Carbide and how inept they were regarding safety. Going through the report would make you realize how safety standards were blatantly violated both by executives in the Indian plant and by visiting executives from abroad and in the headquarters. It is a story of malfunctioning machinery, inadequately trained staff, cost-cutting, and inadequate warnings even after the event had occurred all point to a murky picture.

The Congress govt. both at the Centre and the state was inefficient, to say the least. Also, the CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, who was arrested was allowed to go escape the country and the highest powers of the country including the PMO helping him flee. The govt response was non-existent for the first few hours of the Chief Minister of the state escaping to the outskirts of the city to escape the deadly fumes. Not much is known against the govt activity in the immediate aftermath of the event just tells us how bad the response to the deadly event was!

It’s been 35 years since the tragedy, the second and third generation survivors are fighting against an array of disabilities at a scale hardly ever seen anywhere. Incidences of congenital diseases have spiked making a whole generation disabled with many suffering from multiple disorders. Even after so many years, people are scarred by the incident and successive govts. have done nothing to alleviate the pain. The compensation paid by the company was around 480 million dollars. To put that into perspective the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico amounted to a 21 billion dollar fine for BP. That tells you the story of how lives are thought to be dispensable in a country like India and command no value while in the western world even harm to livelihoods carries far more value. I leave you with some excellent articles which showcase the human cost of the disaster and the ineptitude of successive govts. in bringing the perpetrators to justice.