Delhi CM wrong to reserve beds for locals; if other states followed suit, in other areas, where would India end up?
It is unfortunate that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal decided he would reserve Delhi government hospitals only for locals—it is not clear how parents of ‘locals’ were to be treated if they didn’t live in the city—and it is just as well that Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal decided to rescind the order. The order, in any case, could not have withstood judicial scrutiny—such cases have been dismissed by the courts in the past as well—and essentially went against the idea of India. After all, if the Delhi chief minister was going to do it with hospital beds this time around, what is to stop some other state doing the same for water flowing into a neighbouring area or, for instance, a Bihar saying its coal or iron ore wouldn’t be allowed to leave its boundaries or Punjab doing the same for its wheat? Indeed, it is a short step from what the Delhi chief minister was doing to politicians of some states getting together to ask what they get from India in return for the much higher taxes that they contribute. India is a union precisely because people are welcomed across various state borders and because it ensures there is a distribution of money to maintain basic minimum standards of living for all its citizens across various states.
Even more worrying is the way the pandemic is being politicised. For the second day running, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia tried to put the blame for the shortage of beds on the LG. If there is a shortage of beds—the deputy CM said that Covid-19 infection levels in the city could rise to 5.5 lakh by the end of July—because half the beds in the city are taken up by non-locals, he asked, who would take responsibility for this? There is little doubt Delhi is going to have a critical shortage of beds, and this would have been true even if the chief minister had managed to reserve all beds only for locals. According to a panel set up by the Delhi government, the city will need close to 42,000 hospital beds by mid-July; Sisodia seems to have extrapolated that to the end of July by when, he estimates, the city will need 80,000 hospital beds. Based on hospitalisation rates for Covid-19 in the city, and the ratio of active-to-total cases, this means Delhi will have around three lakh cases by mid-July, and infections per million population will be quite similar to big cities like New York. Delhi, however, has just around 8,270 Covid beds right now.
Based on data on the state’s Covid-app, the city is quite comfortable in terms of availability of beds right now—though several people have pointed to flaws in the data for individual hospitals—but once infection levels rise manifold, the city simply cannot cope. Moving from 8,270 to 42,000—and 80,000 going by Sisodia’s estimates—is a mammoth task and cannot be achieved by the current piecemeal approach of adding to capacity by, at various points in time, converting hotels into hospitals, or by sequestering more beds from private hospitals. Instead of trying to blame the LG—and, therefore, the prime minister—for the coming shortage of beds, the Delhi government needed to have started planning for the pandemic a long time ago, it needed to have sat down with the LG to discuss how the centre could help; indeed, even now, the best bet is to call the army to help set up several field hospitals at the earliest.