Tamil Nadu, a state which has been ruled by powerful leaders for several decades, is for the first time bearing the brunt of a lackluster leader at the helm. That too during a pandemic.
Edappadi Palanisamy was never a leader or CM material but an accidental Chief Minister. When the three time Chief Minister – with the backing of BJP-OPS – suddenly revolted against the proposed elevation of Jayalalitha’s aide Sasikala, the Sasikala clan with an aim to hold the party together and save the government, huddled together in a resort near Chennai. It was actually, KA.Sengottaiyan who was the choice of Sasikala family. But, he could not grease the itching palms of restless MLAs in time. Edappadi Palanisamy, who had been handling the Public Works and Highways portfolio, was able to deliver the ‘goods’ in time to pacify the MLAs and thus he made it to the post of CM.
Experts say, skill & efficiency of a leader will be known during a crisis and Edappadi Palanisamy has been fumbling to handle this pandemic from day one. Before the lockdown, in Tamil Nadu assembly, Palanisamy said, Corona will affect only old people. Later he boasted that in three days, corona infection count will hit Zero. Then he gave a new explanation which none of the world epidemiologists found. “Corona will only affect rich people”. When opposition demanded an all party meeting to discuss the COVID19 situation, he dismissed them saying they are not ‘scientists’.
Initially, Tamil Nadu government without hesitation blamed the Delhi Tablighi Jaamat conference for the spread of Corona in Tamil Nadu. TN’s Health Secretary Beela Rajesh, in March repeatedly spoke about ‘Delhi cluster’ in her press meets. Later this morphed as ‘single source’. While the TN government was blaming the Tablighi Jaaamat attendees, a huge cluster was silently forming inside Chennai’s wholesale vegetable market.
After the national lockdown on 25th March, almost the entire Tamil Nadu shut itself down. But, no one bothered about the Koyambedu market, where on a rough estimate 80,000 to one lakh people visit. Koyambedu market comes under Chennai Metropolitan Development Agency which comes under Deputy Chief Minister O.Panneerselvam. He visited the market twice during April and declared all is well. Monitoring Koyambedu market was the only job of Deputy Chief Minister. But ignoring this, OPS was keen to ensure that registration of properties commenced in TN during lockdown. He met representatives of CREDAI and promised to restart construction work.
CMDA Member Secretary Karthikeyan IAS, should have shown a little interest out of the keen interest he shows in giving building approvals. But, he cared two hoots and now he is nowhere to be seen.
The result, Koyambedu became a huge cluster and infections were found by the fag end of April. Koyambedu market was finally closed on 29th April 2020. But by this time, the damage was done. Infections spread across the state through people who had visited the market and it was impossible to trace the infections.
Even this belated action was taken after a Special Officer – Radhakrishnan IAS was appointed to oversee covid prevention activities in Chennai. Prakash IAS, Chennai Corporation Commissioner who is too eager to please his Minister SP.Velumani, never bothered to take necessary steps. But no responsibility was fixed either on Karthikeyan or Prakash for their faults. Neither of them have been transferred till date.
Right from day one, Tamil Nadu government had been groping in the dark in handling the Corona crisis. Twelve teams comprising senior IAS & IPS officers were appointed by the Government to tackle the covid spread on 11 April 2020. No one knew what happened to those committees today. Subsequently in the end of April, TN government another committee headed by senior IAS officer J.Radhakrishnan exclusively to handle Covid in Chennai. The announcement read, “Mr. Radhakrishnan will be supported by a team of IPS officers — Mahesh Kumar Agarwal, ADGP (Operations), in charge of North Zone, Abash Kumar, ADGP (Economic Offences Wing), East Zone, Amaresh Pujari, ADGP, Tamil Nadu Police Academy, South Zone, Abhay Kumar Singh, ADGP (Idol Wing), West Zone and K. Bhavaneeswari, DIG (Coast Security Group), deployed in Chennai suburbs”. Except J.Radhakrishnan, none of the other officers supposed to be in the Committee are seen to be handling any covid related work on ground.
On 6 June 2020, TN Government appointed another IAS officer – Pankaj Kumar Bansal – over and above the already appointed Committee to handle covid spread in Chennai.
To Radhakrishnan’s credit, he was quick to conduct an inspection of the Koyambedu wholesale market and swiftly recommended total shut down of the market. From the day, covid crisis set foot in Tamil Nadu, TN’s bureaucracy was unanimously of the opinion that the incumbent Health Secretary Dr.Beela Rajesh was not competent enough to handle a pandemic in the state. However, TN Health Minister Vijayabaskar was very particular that she should not be shifted out of Health Department.
Apart from being corrupt, Beela Rajesh is reported to be inefficient, not cooperative with her colleagues and impractical. Such an officer being at the helm of a pandemic situation has pushed the state into a deep mess. A senior official from Town and Country Planning department, where Beela Rajesh had a stint earlier said, “She is not a team player. Wherever she goes, her writ is final”. However the CM was not able to change her in spite of the mess she has created in the Health Department. Finally, the Chief Minister did what needs to be done – Beela was shunted out and J Radhakrishnan was back as the Health Secretary. Though, this is a belated move, but it gives some hope at the end of the day. However, sources in secretariat say, Beela Rajesh had her pound of before going out of Health. She is posted as Secretary to Commercial Taxes & Registration department, a post which is considered very lucrative.
Apart from Beela Rajesh, another bureaucrat who remains as a stumbling block in Tamil Nadu administration’s covid fight is G. Prakash IAS. He is one among the blue eyed boys of Tamil Nadu Local Administration Minister SP Velumani. Velumani’s words are final in the local administration department across the state. He picks the contractors for even the purchase of bleaching powder to local bodies leave alone multi crore contractors.
Prakash has not only proved himself to be inept in handling the virus spread, but is also reported to be scorchingly corrupt. One of the reasons for the rapid spread of Corona in Chennai is attributed to the amateurish handling by officers, particularly Prakash IAS. The Chief Secretary Shanmugam IAS, shouted down Prakash in a video conference meeting regarding corona say sources. Following the meeting, the Chief Secretary sent a sternly worded D.O. letter to Prakash to reinvent the strategies to handle Corona in Chennai. In the letter, CS said, “we have been advocating specific intervention strategies based on micro plan besides focused testing, efficient contract tracing and quarantine management, smooth patient management and strict containment zone management, etc. by positioning zonal team headed by IAS officer for each zone”.
The DO letter addressed by a Chief Secretary to Chennai Corporation Commissioner assumes significance, as normally Chief Secretary don’t use to address Corporation Commissioners directly. Whatever be the instructions of Chief Secretary, they will be communicated to the Corporation Commissioners through Municipal and Water Administration Secretary. Only after this, senior IAS Officer Pankaj Kumar Bansal was appointed to oversee covid prevention works in Chennai.
One inference that can be drawn without ambiguity is this. Neither the Chief Minister nor the Chief Secretary are powerful enough to change just even IAS officers. However, another postings last week raised eyebrows. Nagarajan IAS was suddenly transferred out from the post of Project Director, Tamil Nadu Health Systems Project. This Nagarajan had from 27 June 2018 to 28 April 2019 served as Additional Secretary Health. Later he was posted as Director of Entreprenueurship Development Institute. Again in September 2019, he was again brought back to health department by Health Minister Vijayabaskar from where he stands transferred now. Such transfers are effected as per the whims of Vijayabaskar and not on any emergent requirement.
Edappadi Palanisamy is not able to control any of his ministers is quite palpable for a long time. If he wants to transfer Health Secretary Beela Rajesh, Health Minister Vijayabaskar will opposes it. He has managed to transfer Beela, but not after too much procrastination. That too after all damage is done in the Health Department. Edappadi Palaniswamy wanted Dr Umanath IAS to be appointed as the Health Secretary. This was swiftly opposed by Vijayabaskar. Now, If he wants to transfer Chennai Corporation Commissioner Prakash, Local Administration Minister SP.Velumani will be up in arms. If he wants to transfer Karthikeyan IAS, Member Secretary CMDA, who is single handedly responsible for Koyambedu cluster, Deputy CM O.Panneerselvam will be sulking. To put it bluntly, despite being Chief Minister of the State, Edappadi Palanisamy is clueless, helpless and powerless.
A Delhi based journalist, on condition of anonymity had this to say. “The mismanagement of Covid 19 situation by TN Govt has exposed itself at various levels. First it has brought to the fore the biggest weakness of the Government – inexperience. The lack of experience of the political leadership in handling such issues, the administrations failure at various levels, the lack of coordination on the ground has resulted in a mess.
While Kerala was taking things very seriously with regards to COVID19. TN was in denial mode, the Chief Minister was handling the issue from day 1 in Kerala. Whereas in TN, it was Health Minister and an inexperienced Secretary who hasn’t even served as a district collector in her life time was given the task of handling such a huge disaster.
The advises by senior bureaucrats were ignored by the health secretary and she was unwilling to work in tandem with other departments such as disaster management, revenue, police and etc.
The Chief Minister was unable to take things under his control. As a result every other wing of the TN government machinery failed miserably in handing the COVID19 situation. One of the biggest example is Koyembedu Market, allowing such a huge market to function in full swing without any regulation during a pandemic resulted in a catastrophe.
Today, what we are witnessing in Chennai and rest of Tamil Nadu is because of the present governments administrative failure. Cases are going up because of their flawed strategies and attempts to cover up everything. The health department was withholding crucial information about the pandemic from day one. Be it details of contact tracing or route map of covid 19 patients and deaths. This made things very difficult for people and it all resulted in a massive failure.
The government is now asking people to cooperate and help them in fighting covid19. The fact of the matter is the government should have been forthcoming in sharing real time information about the pandemic so that the public are aware and they take precautions accordingly.
The breakdown of communication from the government has made people insecure and now things have gone out of control to the extent that the g government now wants to us to learn to live with corona. It’s in a shameful and at the same point of time admission of their failure in other words.
A global pandemic was handled in a lackadaisical attitude by the Tamil Nadu government. Without any scientific backing decisions were taken on testing, quarantine and the implementation process was done without any coordination. TN has the best health infrastructure in the country and hardworking workforce. The only problem I see is that there was no guidance from the leadership. The failure of the leadership has resulted in a mess.
Chief Minister, Health Minister and others were taking decisions on handling the pandemic based on their political calculations and not the welfare of the people.”
As noted by senior journalist RK.Radhakrishnan in his column in the Frontline, death rates are increasing in an alarming rate in Chennai. However the administration is just clueless and fumbling in the dark. There is no coordination, leadership nor sheer will to handle this pandemic. The ego clash among officers is wreaking havoc on state’s covid fight. Around a week back, K.Nandakumar IAS, who was deputed exclusively to deal with the covid spread in North Chennai was removed without any reason. He was not assigned to any covid related duty. Only a couple of days back, Nandakumar proactively started random testing and suggested aggressive methods for home quarantine, etc. in North Chennai where the spread is alarming. To his surprise, he was removed from covid related duty. However better sense prevailed through J.Radhakrishnan IAS, who fought with Chief Secretary and reinstalled Nandakumar in charge of handling covid in North Chennai. Now, the methods suggested by Nandakumar is being adopted in all zones in Chennai. The shift and reinstallation of Nandakumar is nothing but petty ego clash.
Now, to add fuel to the confusion, Corporation Commissioner G. Prakash has issued an announcement that all those who come for covid testing would be quarantined along with their family members. This one announcement alone is enough to spread panic and send into hiding all those who are showing symptoms. This is the kind of officers who are in the forefront of Covid fight in Tamil Nadu.
Another flip-flop by the TN government is with reference to the conduct of exams for 10th standard students. Sources in the intelligence wing of the state say, government was cautioned adequately about the foolishness of conducting 10th exams amidst a pandemic and the blowback it will draw. But, Edappadi Palanisamy was helpless and he could not overrule his school education Minister – KA.Sengottaiyan. In the end after scathing observations by the Madras High Court in this regard, government had to do a volte-face.
Edapadi Palanisamy’s problems are not in health front alone. DMK has filed a petition in Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Speaker of Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly to disqualify the 11 MLAs who voted against the Government in 2017. This petition is expected to be heard next week. Apart from this Edapadi has to prepare his party for elections in the state which is hardly 10 months away. But, such excuses won’t mean much to the common man who is not only battling covid but also fighting for his everyday survival.
A senior doctor, now on duty in Rajiv Gandhi government hospital says, “There is no protocol how to treat the out patients. There is no clear instructions on whom to admit whom to turn away. Most of the Medical College hospitals are now being run by Post Graduate Assistants. There is no clear data on where bed is available and where not. The doctors have formed a WhatsApp group among themselves temporarily to keep a count of the beds occupied and vacant.
Fatigue has set among senior medical officers and nurses. They simply cannot handle it anymore. Unless some strong actions are taken, we are swiftly moving towards a deep mess”.
Multiple sources in the government confirm this doctor’s version. The government is just clueless. They don’t know what to do.
A journalist remarked “We have reached a situation where no amount of money, influence can secure us a bed in hospital. We have to fend for ourselves”. He is not exaggerating. This is the factual position of the existing situation. With government appointing a new health secretary in place, there is hope that things may move forward in the right direction, but much water has flown under the bridge. Till things improve all we can do in such a messy situation is
1) Stay indoors
2) Avoid going out
3) Do all the shopping at one time
4) Avoid venturing out without any reason
5) Use face masks
6) Maintain social distancing.
NO ONE CAN SAVE YOU.