Rajat Sharma

My Opinion

Allowing migrant workers to return home is a step in the right direction

akb0612After more than a month of nationwide lockdown, Ministry of Home Affairs on Wednesday issued order allowing inter-state movement by road of migrant labourers, students, pilgrims and tourists after following strict health protocols. The ministry said, “there has been tremendous gains and improvement in the situation because of lockdown till now”. The MHA modified clause 17 of its April 15 guidelines while allowing inter-state movement of people, subject to the state governments agreeing to take back these people by buses.

This is good news for lakhs of migrant workers stranded in many states who want to return to their homes. Already, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath had sent buses to bring back students from Kota, Rajasthan. These students will return to their homes only after spending 14 days in quarantine centers. Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Assam governments also sent buses to bring back their students, while the West Bengal government on Wednesday began evacuation of its students in buses which will return to Kolkata, Asansol and Siliguri. Similarly, Maharashtra government have sent 72 buses to bring back its 1,700 students from Kota.

The Centre has asked all states and UTs to designate nodal authorities and develop standard protocols for receiving and sending these stranded persons. In the last five weeks, I know of many persons who were stuck outside their states while in course of their work or medical treatment or tourism. Several of them had requested me to arrange for their return to their home states but the lockdown norms were so strict that I had to tell them to wait till the Coronavirus pandemic subsides. I am happy that the Centre has now decided to allow them to return.

The doubling rate of Corona cases which was 3 days earlier, later eased to 10 days and now, for the last three days, it has further eased to 11.5 days. In order to get permission, a person or group of persons will have to apply online to the designated nodal officer, who in turn will contact the nodal officer in the receiving states, and arrange for inter-state movement. Buses will have to be sanitized and social distancing will have to be enforced for passengers sitting inside the buses. The permission will be from end point to end point, and there will be no need to get permission from states through which the buses will pass.

There are several reasons behind the Centre’s decision to allow these stranded persons to return. One, the need to stop migrant labourers from walking long distances in summer heat; Two, patience of people stranded in different states is running out as the lockdown approached its 40th day; Three, most of the migrant workers were living in slum areas where social distancing was difficult to maintain and they could be prone to catch the virus easily; and last, but not the least, since these stranded workers had no work and their savings have dwindled, the only alternative left was allowing them to return to their homes where they could protect their health and at least get work under MGNREGA for subsistence.

I had discussed in detail the migrant workers issue with two ministers on Tuesday. My suggestion was that since there are hardly any vehicles on the national and state highways, and the state governments have entire fleets of buses at their command, there should be meticulous planning in sending back the migrant workers and other stranded persons.

Waiting for lockdown to end and then allowing these workers to return en masse would be disastrous. The day bus and train services resume, millions of workers and other passengers will flock to railway stations and bus terminals, throwing social distancing norms to the wind. The very purpose of lockdown will be defeated. It will be difficult to keep huge crowds under control at railway stations and bus terminals.

Questions were raised whether allowing movement of workers will not lead to spread of virus to the states. I pointed out the protocol set by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s government. His government made the 14-day quarantine mandatory for all students who were brought from Kota. This prevented the pandemic from spreading in the districts. People in villages on their own set up quarantine centers in school buildings, provided meals to those who returned and avoided contact with them.

I believe, people living in rural India are mature enough to understand the need for social distancing norms. They are the best persons to enforce quarantine in their respective villages. Had these migrant workers continued to stay in the urban slums and hovels, they could have started dying either from hunger or from the pandemic.

Apart from allowing return of stranded persons, the Centre is now formulating guidelines for further relaxation of lockdown norms from May 4 in Orange and Green zones, where the pandemic has not affected human lives much. These relaxations will ensure that normal life is restored and economic activity is resumed. The Centre may allow graded reopening of market places and shopping malls.

Only the Red zones that include the metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Chennai, may not get immediate relief because of a large number of hot spots.

From an overall point of view, the priorities of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government are clear. The Centre first released funds to poor people, particularly women and farmers, so that they should not be financially handicapped during the lockdown period. This helped to a large extent in stemming the spread of the pandemic in rural areas. It then allowed industries located in rural areas to resume work. Now it has allowed return of stranded migrant workers to their home states.

The final stage will be a crucial one. The pandemic has to be controlled in the Red zone (our metros) and the number of hot spots will have to be reduced. That is where the decisive battle against Coronavirus pandemic will be fought.

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Tablighi Jamaat chief must own up responsibility for sending hundreds of people to death

AKB2610Today I begin with a comparison of Coronavirus statistics of India and the US. In a nation of 1.35 billion people, we have a total number of 29,974 cases, about to touch the 30,000 mark. The official death toll in India is 937 and nearly 1600 new cases were added in the last 24 hours with 53 deaths.

In the world’s most powerful country, USA, 1303 people died in the last 24 hours and the total number of cases stood at 10,35,765. One thing is clear. After more than a month of nationwide lockdown, the pandemic is now under control in India.

Questions are being asked why 1,600 new Corona cases have come if the pandemic is under control? Why is the lockdown being extended if things are under control? Let me answer by pointing out towards the critical hot spots in some of the major cities of India. These are, of course, dangerous trends.

First, let’s go to Nagpur. In the Muslim-dominated Satranjipura locality, it was one single man, who before dying, passed on the virus to more than 80 people and put nearly 1,200 people in quarantine. His name is Abdul Latif, age 68, who died of Coronavirus on April 5 in hospital. I had mentioned about him a week ago. He has four daughters and a son, a family of more than 20 members. Out of them, 18 have been found positive.

The son got the virus first, he passed it on to his wife, the virus caught up with the wife’s brother and sister-in-law. Three daughters of Abdul Latif got the virus, the second daughter passed it on to her husband, and their children also got infected. The virus then infected the third daughter and her two children. Abdul Latif’s brother-in-law and a friend also got the virus. The chain reactions ultimately caught up with all the family members and close friends. Despite knowing that Abdul Latif had been found Corona positive, all these people came in contact with him disregarding distancing norms.

The entire Satranjipura locality had to be declared as a hot spot, and buses were brought to ferry the family members and other contacts to quarantine centers, under guard of State Reserve Police. The whole locality is now mostly empty.

Abdul Latif had no travel history. He was a TB patient, and got the Coronavirus from a friend of his son-in-law, who had a travel history. Abdul Latif was found Corona positive only after his death. The local authorities had appealed to all people who had come in contact with him to opt for quarantine, but very few people responded and chose to conceal their contact history. The result is there for all to see.

Out of nearly 30,000 Corona cases presently in India, nearly two-third (roughly 20,000) cases are from five states, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh. Most of these cases could have been avoided, if the Tablighi Jamaat workers had not worked as super spreaders of the virus.

Take the case of Pune. Neraly 180 Jamaat workers attended the Markaz gathering in Delhi. Out of them, 36 workers were from Bhawani Peth locality, known as Pune’s Dharavi with a population of more than three lakhs.

In Bhawani Peth slum area, there are 8 feet by 10 feet jhuggis, each housing four to five and even up to ten people. Scores of people use a common toilet. The first case was detected here on April 4, and in the next 24 days, the number jumped to more than 250.

The first patient was a member of Tablighi Jamaat. Local officials say, most of the Jamaat members were vegetable, fruit or milk vendors. They came in contact with many people and spread the virus. When the Jamaat controversy began, police had appealed to Jamaat members to come forward, but nearly five of them escaped and hid with friends and relatives. By the time most of the Jamaat members were isolated, the pandemic had spread across Bhawani Peth locality, which had to be declared a hot spot.

Ahmedabad is another crucial ‘red zone’. Nearly 75 per cent of Corona patients in the city are those who came in contact with Tablighi Jamaat workers. There are more than 2,500 Corona patients in Ahmedabad presently. The first case was detected on March 20, it rose to 34 in 12 days, and now the figure is in four digits. The same is the case with Kanpur, another ‘red zone’ where Jamaat members spread the virus to their friends, contacts and even in madrasas.

Whenever I speak of Tablighi Jamaat, there are some people who raise objections. They usually ask, why I am naming the outfit. My question is: why should we refrain from naming Tablighi Jamaat? It is because of its gathering at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz that the virus spread across many states of India. How can we conceal this fact?

Is it not a fact that nearly 40,000 people had to undergo quarantine because of the Jamaat? Was it not a fact that many of these Jamaat workers were detected hiding inside mosques in different states?

Is it not a fact that many of the policemen, health workers and other social activists who had gone there to round up the Jamaat members, were themselves infected with the virus?

The senior Congress leader from Ahmedabad, Badruddin Sheikh, had himself gone to the mosques to trace Jamaat members, and in the process, he got the virus and finally died in hospital.

Another Congress leader Imran Khedawala had to be hospitalized because he got the virus after he went to mosques in search of Jamaat members. It was after meeting Imran Khedawala that the Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani and deputy chief minister Nitin Patel had to opt for home quarantine.

My question is: Should the Tablighi Jamaat not take the responsibility for spreading Coronavirus to these two senior Congress leaders of Gujarat?

Should the Jamaat chief Maulana Saad not take the responsibility for misguiding his followers at the Markaz gathering for boasting that Muslims will never get infected by the virus and that the mosque is the best place to die, if at all somebody is infected. Maulana Saad is still in hiding. He must come out and own up the blunders that he committed by sending hundreds of people to death that could have been avoided.

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The danger is far from over, let us not fritter away our gains by allowing all-out relaxations

akb2910Prospects of a further extension of nationwide lockdown after May 3 emerged at a video conference meeting of state chief ministers with the Prime Minister on Monday. However, most of the state governments have called for phase wise relaxation in restrictions in view of the spike in the number of hot spots in major cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Surat, Indore, Thane, Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai.

Out of 747 districts in India, 180 districts have been marked as ‘red zone’, 228 districts are in ‘orange zone’ and the remaining 339 districts are in ‘green zone’. A ‘red zone’ is one where coronavirus is spreading fast and the number of cases is on the rise, while an ‘orange zone’ is one where there had been coronavirus cases but most of the patients have recovered. A ‘green zone’ is one where there has not been a single case till date.

Clearly, more than half of India’s districts are in the ‘green zone’, but the catch lies in the ‘red zone’. The number of districts in ‘red zone’ may be less, but these districts keep the wheels of economy running. They are the power houses of Indian economy. These are densely populated areas and the virus is spreading fast. The good news is that the virus has not spread to India’s rural hinterland.

The Centre has allowed lifting of all restrictions on farming activity. Nearly 80 per cent of the wheat crops have been harvested and shops selling agricultural implements, seeds and fertilizers have been allowed to reopen. Mandis (farm product markets) are operating normally. In factories located in green zone, sanitization and social distancing norms will be strictly enforced so that the virus does not spread.

At the meeting with chief ministers, the Prime Minister pointed out to reports of a second wave of Coronavirus in China, Japan and South Korea. So, the danger is far from over, and the gains that India has accrued in the first phase must not be frittered away by allowing all-out relaxations.

The western media, which has been traditionally anti-India over the last several decades, has chosen not to take note of how India has brought the Coronavirus pandemic under control in a nation of 1.3 billion people. On the contrary, questions are being raised about the government’s role. There is nothing new about it. The western media has this habit of showing India in a poor light.

Some in the western media are surprised why people did not die in thousands in India, at a time when thousands of people died in the USA, UK, Italy, Spain and France, which boasted of the world’s best health infrastructure. The western media is unable to comprehend why poor people living in city slums did not die in thousands in a country like India, which does not have a large number of modern hospitals.

Those in the western media who criticize India should learn from a French family, which has been staying in a village in UP’s Maharajganj district for the past 23 days due to lockdown. The family was on a round the world trip in its Recreation Vehicle. It crossed Wagah border on March 1, entered India, and the next destination was Nepal, and from there to Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia.

On March 22, the French family reached Maharajganj near Nepal border, but was denied entry to the country due to lockdown. Since then, this family has been staying in Kolhua village, 30 km from the border. Local Indian villagers, including the temple priest, are looking after their food and other requirements, and the French lady in the family has been seen sitting in the temple praying to Lord Hanuman for a safe journey.

Such is the magic of India and the Indian people. The combined population of the US, UK, Italy, Spain and France account for 52.2 crores and the number of Coronavirus cases is nearly 17.6 lakh. More than 1.3 lakh people have died till date.

Compare these figures with India, which has a population of 133 crore, number of Corona cases is nearly 30,000 and the death toll is in three digits (939). If the western media is sceptical about India’s statistics, then none can help them. We salute our Corona warriors, our doctors and nurses, who have done a sterling job in keeping the pandemic under control.

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How India brought the Coronavirus pandemic under control

akb3010We can now say that the Coronavirus pandemic is now under control in India. There are no signs of community spread as yet. Scientists say that a huge crisis has been averted. If we go by the assessments of top experts, the overall statistics are enough for all of us to heave a sigh of relief.

Timely imposition of nationwide lockdown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, soon after banning all international air traffic, has helped India in putting a brake on the exponential growth in cases as was being feared a month ago.

On Friday, the government said that the situation is now under control with close to 25,000 positive cases and the doubling rate has now touched 10 days compared to the earlier doubling rate of 3 days. A member of NITI Aayog said, had we delayed the lockdown, the number of cases could have crossed one lakh by now.

The lockdown, preceded by screening of all international passengers, enforcement of surveillance and tracing of contacts in cooperation with state police, has yielded the desired results. According to statisticians, COVID-19 growth rate in India has fallen from 22 per cent to 8 per cent now. The doubling rate is expected to rise from 10 days to 14 days within the next 2-3 days, experts said.

India is now in a position to claim that it has succeeded in stemming community spread of the virus. In the initial days, the numbers of cases and deaths were less. There was a lurking fear that if testing was done on a bigger scale, the numbers could jump exponentially. Now that more than 5 lakh tests have been done, the pandemic can be said to have been brought under control. However the number of 5 lakhs is nothing in a nation of 1.38 billion people.

I spoke to several experts and they said that tests are not the only tool to measure the growth of a pandemic. Several other tools of measurement were applied. For example, it was checked whether a large number of people went to hospitals and dispensaries with complaints of fever, cold, cough and pneumonia. The answer was no. Whether a large number of medicines for common cold, cough and pneumonia were sold from chemist shops? The answer was no. It was checked whether there was a spurt in the number of patients with chest infection reaching ICUs. The answer was no. Beds in many ICUs of hospitals are now lying empty.

The pandemic was not brought under control in two or three days. The story begins 30 days ago. March 23 was the crucial date when the infected virus changed directions in India. In the beginning, the number of cases was doubling in three days, later it stretched to five days. This was because the government had started banning all incoming international flights and there was mandatory screening at airports for all passengers. Finally, nearly 9 lakh people were kept under surveillance.

The second stage began on April 6, when the initial results of the lockdown were visible. The doubling rate has risen to 10 days. This was because of people staying inside their homes and maintaining social distance. Even then there was no guarantee that the virus reaching community spread stage could be stopped. Trains, buses, offices and factories came to a standstill. Millions of people stayed inside their homes. The experts needed time to assess the results of the nationwide lockdown.

The complete assessment of results of the 30-day lockdown came out on Friday. Experts said, they can now safely say that the pandemic is under control. Chances of community spread are now low.

I want to specifically mention here, this could not have happened without the full cooperation of millions of Indians who rose as one to heed the Prime Minister’s appeal. This could not have happened if the police had not strictly enforced lockdown norms. Doctors and police personnel joined hands to trace contacts of Corona patients, got them tested and localities were put under surveillance. This could not have happened without the timely intervention of District Magistrates who worked in tandem with the local police.

Had the lockdown not been enforced strictly, had the contacts not been traced, had the tests not been carried out, the number of Coronavirus cases in India could easily have crossed a lakh by now. And had the total figure reached a lakh, there was no force on earth that could have stopped it from escalating to 10 or 20 lakhs.

Watch what happened in the US, Spain, Italy and France. ICUs in hospitals were choked, patients needing treatment were lying outside hospitals, ventilators were in short supply, the doctors and healthcare staff had no PPE (personal protective equipment) to wear, and in some places, even the masks were in short supply.

We should also understand the challenges that came in the way. Nobody had dreamed of such a large number of Tablighi Jamaat workers coming out of the Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi and spreading out to 20 states. Because of the Jamaat, more than 40,000 people had to undergo tests.

For the police and doctors, it was a challenging task to find out the Jamaat workers and their contacts because religious feelings were involved. Since they succeeded, we can now say that India is safe. Because of the timely decision to enforce lockdown, we can now say that we are all safe.

The nationwide lockdown was a sagacious decision taken on the advice of experts. There was meticulous planning behind the decision. I would rather say that India is fortunate to have Narendra Modi as its prime minister in this hour of crisis, otherwise we could have seen visuals of bodies piling up, as we saw in the US, Italy and Spain. The contribution of our state chief ministers is no less. It is because of their active role that we can now say that the pandemic is now under control.

The entire nation as one shouldered the burden of lockdown. For now, the people will have to bear with these difficulties till May 3. The whole nation changed its behavior in the last one month and converted the government’s war against Corona to a people’s war. Without an iota of doubt, I can now say, that if we, the people of India, stand united in this hour of crisis, we can beat this pandemic for sure.

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Beware of the super spreaders of Coronavirus, they are behind the spike in numbers

AKB2610Doctors attending to COVID-19 patients in Delhi’s Lok Nayak Jayaprakash hospital on Thursday complained on India TV that some of the belligerent patients have been taking off their masks and threatening doctors to infect them with the deadly virus. These patients had been abusing the doctors and making threatening gestures. Who are these patients? No prizes for guessing.

On Thursday night in my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’, I spoke to Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. He said an ordinance has already been brought, and if doctors or health workers are threatened, they can file complaints against the patients with police, and the SHO will have to complete investigation and file case within a month.

I think these provisions are for extreme cases only, where doctors and nurses are attacked. To deal with such incidents immediately, police must be stationed at dedicated COVID-19 hospitals so that the culprits can be dealt with sternly. In the LNJP case, the Health Minister promised to speak to the hospital medical superintendent and ask him to take action.

If any doctor or health worker throughout India is either abused or attacked or threatened while dealing with COVID-19 cases, they are free to contact me on my phone number 93505 93505. I promise to take up such matters with the highest authorities including the chief minister or the health minister.

The number of Coronavirus cases in India jumped from 21,358 on Wednesday to 23,113 on Thursday, an 8.3 per cent rise, the highest single day surge of 1,755 cases. So far, 721 persons have died. Mumbai tops the list, followed by Delhi. Though the overall spread of the virus has been halted due to the 30-day lockdown still in force, there are hot spots in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Jaipur, where the number of cases is still on the rise. This is because of the super spreaders who are passing on the virus to a large number of people.

On Thursday, Ajmer joined this list with its main hot spot around the world famous dargah of Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti. Out of the 107 people found positive, 94 persons got the virus from one super spreader.

Rashid, who use to sell caps near the dargah, had recently started selling vegetables. He was the first to get infected and he passed on the virus to 15 family members and five friends, who in turn passed on to their wives, and these women who were maids passed on the virus in those houses where they used to work. Till now, 343 people are in quarantine. Doctors said, Rashid had virus symptoms but when his condition worsened he went to the hospital on April 19. By that time, he had already passed on the virus to 94 persons.

Another super spreader was Mubarak Ali, who returned from Oman to Delhi on March 12. He had fever at that time, but he took paracetamol tablets to lower his body temperature, passed airport screening, and took a Rajasthan Roadways bus to Ramganj locality in Jaipur. He had been advised 14-day home quarantine since he had returned from abroad, but he freely mixed with nearly 200 people. He had dinners and get-togethers with old friends, and in the process, he passed on the virus.

Adding fuel to the raging fire, five Tablighi Jamaat workers came from Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz and took shelter in Rahmania Masjid in the same locality and passed on the virus to more people. Today, Ramganj locality has been declared a red zone. It has been fortified from all sides and entry and exit of people have been severely restricted. Health teams still continue with their contact tracing tasks.

Another super spreader was a migrant labourer from Bihar in Bengaluru’s Hongasandara locality. He had weak lungs due to tuberculosis earlier. He used to cook food for other workers who stayed with him. He passed on the virus to nine other migrant workers and the sword of the virus is now hanging on nearly 200 others. Nearly 120 persons have been quarantined and the families of auto drivers who took him to hospitals have also been put in quarantine.

In Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid locality, 11 members of a family were found positive. These include six men and five women including a 12-year-old girl. The family of three brothers stay in a two-storeyed building built on a single plot. One of the family members is undergoing treatment in Max hospital, Saket. When all the 18 members and their contacts were tested, seven were found negative, while the remaining 11, were found positive. They have been admitted to Jagpravesh Hospital. The entire Hakimji Gali and adjoining lanes have been sealed. Here the administration has not revealed names of the patients.

In Lucknow, the Kasaibaada locality has become another hotspot with 99 patients. The virus was noticed on April 5 when 12 Tablighi Jamaat members hiding in Ali Jan Masjid were traced and taken to hospital. All of them were later found positive. By that time, the chain reaction had started which is still continuing.

The caretaker of the mosque Mirajuddin and his family members were found positive. A neighbour and his family members were also tested positive. A lady social worker Sheeba who used to visit the mosque regularly was also found positive. The jump in the number of cases came when Hari Ram Gupta, a general store shopkeeper and his employee were also found positive. Another person, Irfan, who used to work in a community kitchen, also caught the virus and in all the number has now reached 99. Imagine, if the Jamaat workers had not been hiding inside the mosque, the number of cases would have been lower.

The Tablighi Jamaat chief Maulana Saad is still in hiding and he has not yet issued any appeal to his workers to come out and cooperate with the authorities. This has become a bigger challenge as time passes and the activists in hiding do their work as super spreaders of the deadly virus. I once again appeal to Maulana Saad to ask his supporters who are in hiding to come out and get themselves tested. According to a report, the number of such people who haven’t come out is around 400. If they don’t come out and become super spreaders it could be very dangerous.

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Ordinance to punish offenders who attack health workers is a timely and welcome step

akb0210On Wednesday evening , in my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ I showed visuals from inside the intensive care unit of a New York hospital where doctors in protective gear were furiously trying to save the life of a Coronavirus patient. More than 900 people have died in the locality, Westchester, and doctors in Saint Joseph’s Medical Center are trying hard to cope with the pandemic. Doctors with not enough masks and protective gear are struggling. The doctor on duty said I announce 6 death in my shift every day. This is the story of almost all American hospitals.

Nearly 8.5 lakh people in the US are down with the virus, and the death toll is inching towards 48,000 mark. New York has become the epicentre where nearly 20,000 people have died so far. The purpose of our showing these visuals was to tell viewers in India the dangers one can face if lockdown and social distancing norms are defied.

People died in thousands in the US, Italy, Spain and UK, because these countries delayed enforcing lockdown. The pandemic virus swept through major cities and devoured people in thousands. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a timely decision and enforced lockdown that is still continuing. This has largely helped in stemming the spread of the virus.

Yet there are still people in India who view the lockdown as unnecessary and think the virus will spare them even if they come out in the open and mix with crowds. In the process, they pass on the virus to others.

There was this case in Nagpur, where a 68-year-old man Abdul Latif, a patient of tuberculosis, died of Coronavirus, but in the process, he passed on the virus to 54 members of his extended family. He had four daughters and a son, and there were 22 members in his family, out of which 18 were later found positive. Abdul Latif had two brothers and a sister. In all there were 54 members in the three families, out of which more than 20 were found positive.

Attacks on police and health workers continue. In Aligarh, on Wednesday, crowds pelted stones at policemen who had come to close down shops after the relaxation time for shopping was over. Eight persons were later arrested. In Baliga Nagar located in Mumbai’s Dharavi slums, several Tablighi Jamaat supporters beat up a man because had informed police about the presence of Jamaat workers.

Lockdown and social distancing norms are still being violated. I showed visuals of crowds at Liluah Bazaar in Howrah, West Bengal, in Mulund, Mumbai and a fish market in Karnataka’s Mysuru district.

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved an Ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, providing for imprisonment up to seven years, if anybody attacks a medical team and causes serious injuries to health workers. The ordinance has been brought to provide security to the health workers who are being attacked when they visit virus-infested localities. The culprits will have to pay double the market price of ambulances, if these are damaged.

The ordinance has been welcomed as timely by all sections of people. We should also have words of appreciation for our police personnel who are toiling day and night to enforce lockdown and to provide security to health workers in hospitals and quarantine centers.

I have a special word of praise for Delhi Police which distributed 59 lakh food packets and 212 tonnes of dry rations among the poor people. Visuals of policemen and women preparing rotis and meals at community kitchens should fill our heart with pride.

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Shameful: How Tablighi Jamaat workers manhandled a lady health worker in Delhi LNJP hospital

akb0712Today I want to share a disturbing news with you. India TV reporter Manish Prasad had gone to Delhi’s LNJP Hospital when a lady health worker Asha, who works in the medicine department, watched his channel mike and came near him. Asha told him, she wanted to narrrate an incident that took place when some Tablighi Jamaat workers literally manhandled her.

These Jamaat workers had been shifted from Nizamuddin Markaz to the quarantine center in Sultanpuri last month. They were brought to LNJP hospital for Coronavirus screening, when the incident took place.

Inside the isolation ward, when she brought meal for the Jamaat workers, they started abusing her. One of the workers caught hold of her neck and tried to force her to eat. The Jamaat workers tore off her PPE cover. Asha had to run out of the ward fearing for her life. The lady health worker said there were no video or audio recordings of the incident, but she wanted to tell the whole world how she was manhandled.

Hats off to Asha, who, despite this ugly incident, continues to take care of the Jamaat patients. She told India TV that initially she was sceptical about news on TV channels about the behaviour of Jamaat workers, but after she was mandhandled, she changed her mind.

I want to ask Tablighi Jamaat workers and their chief Maulana Saad some questions: what was Asha’s mistake? Was it her mistake that the meal she was serving was not to the taste of the Jamaat workers? Is it her mistake that she still continues to serve the Jamaat patients with the same dedication that she had shown earlier? I would request the Maulana and his workers to watch her interview on India TV in full, and then respond. They must tell the nation why Jamaat workers misbehaved with doctors, nurses and other health staff.

Two or three days back, I had shown reports of how Jamaat workers in Indore and other places praised the doctors and nurses after they came out of hospitals. I was under the impression that Jamaat workers have changed their behaviour, but watching Asha’s interview, I decided to show this to all our viewers so that they must know under what circumstances our doctors and nurses are working.

Asha Devi was alone when this incident took place, but Jamaat leaders must understand there is One above all of us. Almighty is watching and a day will come when these people will have to answer for their sins.

It is because of Tablighi Jamaat that almost 50 per cent cases in Delhi, nearly 90 per cent cases in Tamil Nadu and nearly 60 per cent cases in Telangana relate to their workers and their contacts. In Uttar Pradesh, out of 1337 Coronavirus cases detected, more than half (668) patients are related to the Jamaat. The situation is similar in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Jamaat workers, who went underground, are still being arrested in Prayagraj, Rae Bareli and Moradabad in UP. Already the lockdown is into its 29th day and the Jamaat workers are still in hiding. Police is trying to trace them from their hiding places and mosques.

Some people have been asking why Tablighi Jamaat is being singled out on news channels in stories relating to Coronavirus. The question surprises me.
The fact is, thousands of Tablighi Jamaat workers had taken part in the Nizamuddin Markaz gathering. The fact is, the Jamaat workers went across the length and breadth of India, and were found to be carriers of the dreaded virus, otherwise India’s Coronavirus statistics today could have been different, and on the lesser side.

If Nizamuddin Markaz was the origin from where the virus travelled through carriers from Delhi to UP, to MP, to Telangana and Tamil Nadu, why should we refrain from saying so? If Tablighi Jamaat workers manhandle doctors and nurses in hospitals, create ugly scenes inside quarantine centers, why shouldn’t we name them?

Let me cite some examples. On Tuesday, there was news of a 36-year-old doctor Niyamuddin dying of coronavirus in Moradabad. He was part of the team that had surveyed Nizamuddin Markaz. Should we suppress this fact? Fifty seven out of 102 coronavirus cases in Noida related to Ceasefire company. Should we stop naming the company? In Bihar’s Nalanda, it was one man who passed on the virus to 16 family members. Should we refrain from saying that this man passed on the Coronavirus?

Many Islamic leaders have told me that it was because of one organisation that an entire community is being subjected to infamy. Maulans and ulmas agree that ideal situation would have been that Maulana Saad should have come out of hiding and should have appealed to his workers to cooperate with the authorities and undergo screening and treatment. People would then have appreciated the Jamaat’s role.

The unpalatable truth is that the Jamaat chief and his workers are still in hiding, medical teams and police are still being subjected to stoning and abuses, and healthcare workers who go for quarantine are forced to leave localities. The Jamaat chief could at least learn from some of his workers, who after recovering from Coronavirus, are openly praising the doctors and nurses who saved their lives.

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Lynching of sadhus must be condemned, arrest those who spread rumours

AKB2610In a despicable incident, a mob lynched three persons, including two sadhus of Junagarh Akhada, on April 16 inside a forest near Garhchincholi village in Palghar, Maharashtra. The sadhus were going to Surat in a car after obtaining permission from local authorities. Police was present at the spot, but when the lynching began, the policemen escaped fearing their lives.

Video of the lynching had been circulating in social media for the last three days and there have been demands for action against culprits who lynched the sadhus. Initially, police tried its best to hush up the case saying the lynching took place because of rumours that child lifters in the garb of sadhus were active in the locality.

I have seen the unedited video in which the sadhus were first dragged out of the car, beaten with sticks and rocks were thrown on their heads killing them instantly. This gory video cannot be shown on television to viewers.

The incident has been condemned by religious organisations and several political leaders. I agree with yoga guru Swami Ramdev that lynching sadhus has never been a part of Indian culture. It must be condemned.

Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray has promised action against the culprits. Already 110 people have been arrested for taking part in the lynching incident, but the police must find out those who spread baseless rumours on WhatsApp about child lifters and robbers moving in the garb of sadhus. These people should also be arrested and stringent action must be taken against them.

There are two more questions relating to the incident. Why was the state police silent for three days and took action only after the videos became viral on social media? If there was a lockdown in force, how nearly 300 people collected in a mob to lynch the sadhus?

There is one more serious concern which I want to share with you. More than 50 reporters, camerapersons and support staff of news channels in Mumbai have been tested positive with Coronavirus and they will be undergoing treatment. I consider these courageous reporters and camerapersons as part of my family. At the daily Health Ministry briefing, it was disclosed that their number was 30, but a report from Mumbai puts the number at 53.

These mediapersons work courageously on the frontline in the war against Coronavirus. They visit hospitals, morgues, hotspots and containment zones in their zeal to communicate news about Coronavirus to all of you who watch news channels.

I would appeal to all reporters, cameramen and support staff to be careful about health risks while reporting from the ground. To those who are now is isolation wards undergoing treatment, I want to advise them to bear the situation with courage. I assure all of them that I am available for any help if they require regardless of whichever channel or media house they work for. Let us unwaveringly continue our fight against Coronavirus.

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Karnataka govt must take action against Devegowda’s family for violating norms

AKB2610On the 25th day of nationwide lockdown, people in India sitting in their homes watched visuals of former Prime Minister H. D. Devegowda and former Karnataka Chief Minister H. D. Kumaraswamy, along with family members throwing social distancing norms to the wind at the wedding of the former CM’s son Nikhil at Ramnagara near Bengaluru.

Leaders, who should have led by example, were flouting the very norms which they had promised to uphold. No action was taken by the state government, because this wedding was being hosted by a powerful former PM and a former chief minister.

Is the lockdown meant only for the middle class and the poor? Why didn’t Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa prevent this gathering? Was it because it was a wedding in a VVIP family? To keep it “a private affair”, the media was kept at a distance of 20 kilometres from the wedding venue.

What will people feel when they watch a former PM, a former CM, along with their spouses, failing to observe social distancing at the ‘mangalsutra’ ceremony ? I do not know whether Chief Minister Yeddyurappa attended the wedding or not, but there were some pictures circulating on social media showing him with the couple. These could be pictures from the engagement ceremony that was held on February 11, when the lockdown was not in force.

Kumaraswamy had sought government’s permission for 42 vehicles and 110 guests at the wedding, but the administration issued passes for only 40 guests. My information is that food was arranged for 58 vehicle drivers, and there were nearly 200 guests who attended the wedding.

Devegowda and Kumaraswamy are top leaders of Janata Dal(S). The party has to clarify its position, but the Congress will also have to clarify, because Nikhil wed the granddaughter of a former Congress minister M. Krishnappa.

When the Devegowda family was asked why they did not follow norms, Kumaraswamy released an aerial footage to claim that only 40 people attended the wedding.

Kumaraswamy in a series of tweets said: ” …..in this tough time we followed the guidelines issued by the government. We maintained systematic social distance and took enough precaution measures in the marriage …..Once the present situation changes, once we come out of this present condition and when life becomes normal, we and you all will sit together and we will do feast together….”

The Karnataka government had already said that its officials would keep a watch on the wedding and action would be taken if lockdown and social distancing norms are violated.

Normally I do not comment on personal or family matters, particularly relating to weddings or any social event. Even if there are minor violations, it is not considered proper to comment. But in view of the present Coronavirus pandemic and the crisis that the entire nation is facing, I cannot refrain from commenting.

Lakhs of Indians postponed their weddings because of the lockdown. Millions of people are locked inside their houses for the last 25 days. Lakhs of daily wagers and migrant workers are unable to return to their homes because of lockdown. They have no source of livelihood. Millions of poor people and destitutes are surviving on ration and meals given by the governments.

Devegowda and his son Kumaraswamy should have led by example in this hour of crisis. Heavens would not have fallen if the wedding was postponed by a few months. I know, Devegowda’s family believes in astrology and ‘tantra’. It may be their personal choice and I have nothing to say about it. But, we cannot allow the family to put hundreds of people and their contacts at risk because of their deep faith in astrology. The Karnataka government must take action.

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Carry on, brave doctors and nurses, the nation stands with you in this hour of crisis

akb2910The bloodied face of Dr S. C. Agrawal, the doctor who was stoned by a mob in UP’s Moradabad town still haunts my senses. I fail to understand how people can commit such a vile act and then claim to be human beings. This visual of the doctor lying blood-stained inside his ambulance shall always remain an example for posterity to learn lessons.

Senior Islamic scholars have condemned this incident. Indian cinema’s biggest star Salman Khan has, in a video, denounced what he called “a handful of jokers” throwing stones at doctors and nurses.

Another Bollywood actor Anupam Kher reacted saying he was feeling both sad and angry. He questioned why some people are silent over this shameful act in Moradabad. People know whom Anupam Kher is referring to. Words of condemnation also came from Urdu poet Rahat Indori and yoga guru Swami Ramdev. They described this attack on doctors as despicable.

It has been revealed this morning that another person in Nawabpura locality, where the murderous attack on medical staff took place, has been found Corona positive. He is a family member of Sartaj, who died recently due to Coronavirus, and the medical staff had gone to the locality to take his family members for screening and quarantine. This goes to prove that those people who stoned the medical staff were quite ill-informed and had been completely misled by some instigators.

Some people have asked me why police is not taking against stringent action against the stone pelters in Moradabad. UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath has already ordered rounding up of the accused and they will be booked under National Security Act. Already 17 accused of stone pelting have been arrested, and police is using drone and other video footage to trace nearly 180 persons, who took part in the shameful attack on doctors and medical team. These people will be booked under NSA and it will not be easy for them to get bail under this law.

Finally, a word for the brave doctors and nurses. All of you, as brave Corona warriors, are doing a splendid job. The nation stands with you in this time of crisis. Do not be deflected from your objectives by such shameful and sporadic acts by a bunch of misguided people. Work with calm determination and vigour. We shall overcome all odds in our fight against Coronavirus.

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Those attacking doctors must be behind bars

AKB2610Visuals of a senior doctor bleeding inside an ambulance in Moradabad, after a mob stoned health care staff who had gone to a locality for quarantine measures, have shook the people of India.

The Haji Neb Masjid locality in Moradabad reported 17 out of 53 persons as COVID-19 positive. Two of them had gone to the Nizamuddin Markaz gathering of Tablighi Jamaat. One of them, Sartaj, later died. The health care staff led by Dr S C Agrawal had gone there with a police team to take family members of the victim for quarantine.

When police entered the locality, stones and bricks were rained upon them, and the health care staff was attacked. Dr Agrawal lay bleeding inside the ambulance with deep cuts on his face while two other medical staff were also injured in the stoning. Rapid Action Force carried out a flag march in the locality and several stone pelters were arrested.

I want to ask a simple question: What was Dr Agrawal’s guilt? Was he guilty of going to the family members of the COVID-19 victim and persuade them to come for screening and quarantine as was required? Was he guilty of trying to save the lives of Sartaj’s family members who had come in contact with the COVID-19 patient? The UP government has done the right thing in taking strong action against the attackers and those who escaped must be brought to book.

A similar thing happened in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. A health care team had gone to a village to carry out screening of COVID-19 suspects. Their ambulance was stoned and the health care workers had to flee for safety.

In Delhi’s LNJP hospital, at least 30 COVID-19 patients abused and misbehaved with a junior lady doctor, and when other doctors came for help, they were also attacked. The doctors had to hide in a room and call police for help.

I want to tell the mischief makers and stone pelters: these doctors and nurses will ultimately save you whenever you will be attacked by the virus. No quacks can save you and only the doctors can protect you from the jaws of death. There was this incident in Kanpur, where those who had spitted at the doctors, had to ultimately appeal to doctors with folded hands to save them from death.

Can these people imagine what will happen if the doctors and nurses go on strike and refuse to work? The pandemic will engulf entire localities and towns and there will be nobody left to save those stricken with the virus.

The Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath immediately swung into action and ordered that the attackers in Moradabad be booked under National Security Act. The other state governments should take the strongest action against those elements trying to obstruct the work of our doctors and other health care workers. These people should be jailed and quarantine measures must be enforced with an iron hand.

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Sending back migrant workers by trains will defeat the very purpose of lockdown

AKB2610An avoidable drama was enacted in Bandra, Mumbai on Tuesday noon, when nearly 1,500 migrant workers, mostly from Bengal, assembled near the Jama Masjid close to Bandra railway station. Most of the workers said they had learnt through WhatsApp messages that special trains will run to transport them back to their home state. Some workers said, they were told on WhatsApp to assemble near the Jama Masjid, where food will be distributed. So, it was the rumour factory which was at work soon after the Prime Minister finished his address to the nation.

An ex-AIMIM MLA Waris Pathan started a live videocast on Twitter to show how these migrant workers were demanding that they should be sent back to their homes. Soon, the local Congress leader Baba Siddique and a councillor Rehbar Khan reached the mosque and virtually pleaded with the workers to go back to their homes as the lockdown had been extended till May 3.

The most surprising part was that none of the workers had baggages with them. India TV reporters, who rushed to the spot, revealed that most of the workers hailed from Malda, West Bengal. Normally, long distance trains from Mumbai originate from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Kurla or Dadar, but none from Bandra. The entire drama appeared to be fishy.

The Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray and told him that the very purpose of lockdown will be defeated if special trains are run. The Home Secretary also spoke to the state chief secretary and DGP, and finally the police had to resort to lathicharge to disperse the crowd.

Soon thereafter, politicians joined the drama. The chief minister’s son Aditya Thackeray criticized the Centre and demanded that the migrant workers be allowed to go to their homes.

I spoke to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal. He said, the Railways are already losing crores of rupees daily because of cancellation of train services due to lockdown, but there was no other alternative. He said, a single worker infected with Coronavirus, could spread it among most of the workers sitting inside a crowded railway coach. Even if the workers get off at their destinations, they would be acting as super spreaders of the virus in their hometowns and villages, where doctors and health services hardly exist. The government cannot play with the lives of thousands of people by running special trains.

There is not an iota of doubt that there were instigators behind the rumour factory that brought these migrant workers to Bandra. These instigators thrive on people’s mistrust about the state machinery. This mistrust towards the system has accumulated in the minds of common people over the last seven decades. Even if the Centre and state governments feed lakhs of labourers daily, this sense of mistrust gets support when baseless rumours do the rounds on social media.

This is not the time to indulge in petty politics too. Both the Centre and state governments will have to unitedly enforce the lockdown and ensure that the poor workers get regular meals. These are extraordinarily difficult times. On one hand, the governments are fighting the ever spreading Coronavirus in hospitals, isolation wards and quarantine centres, and on the other hand, they have to quell baseless rumours and feed millions of people. This is a gargantuan task.

Come what may, the lockdown has to succeed in India. Only then can people breathe a sigh of relief and normalcy in industries and businesses will be restored.

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