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Remarks by MoS at the ITEC-NCGG Workshop on COVID-19 – Good Governance Practices in a Pandemic

August 06, 2020

Dr. Jitendra Singh, Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Govt. of India
Dr. Kshtrapati Shivaji, Secretary, Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, GoI
Shri V. Srinivas, Director General, National Centre for Good Governance
Dr. Devyani Khobragade, Joint Secretary (DPA-II), Ministry of External Affairs
Ambassadors, Senior officials from ITEC partner countries,
Secretaries to Government of India, Our HoMs joining us from various places across the world,
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Namaskaram to all of you

I am delighted to address the inaugural ceremony of the "ITEC-NCGG Workshop on COVID-19 – Good Governance Practices in a Pandemic” this afternoon. I must congratulate the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances (DARPG), The National Centre for Good Governance (NCGG) and my own ministry’s Development Partnership Assistance-II Division for taking this initiative and mobilizing such a large number of participants from India’s ITEC partner countries across the world within such a short time and in spite of the logistical challenges posed by Covid-19.

2. I am also glad to note that today’s workshop is inspired by the success of the ITEC-NCGG Training Programme on Covid-19 Good Governance Practices that was organized through webinar in June 2020. More than 160 participants from 18 partner countries participated in that. In the second edition of the workshop, i am happy to note that, we have more participants from countriesbroadly covering South Asia, South East Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Ladies and gentlemen,

3. As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic poses an unprecedented threat to both public health across the world and the global economy. It has changed the way we used to live, interact, work and socialize. Developing countries are among the hardest hit as they had to respond to the public health challenges posed by the pandemic not only in a very short period of time but also with limited resources and access to advanced technologies. Our healthcare and associated infrastructure has come under severe stress due to the sudden rise in requirement of isolation beds, ICU and other life saving facilities. Even segregating the Covid patients from non-Covid patients at public health facilities posed a significant challenge. Further, many of our countries were not producing enough Personal Protection Equipments (PPEs), life saving drugs and equipments like ventilators domestically. The disruption of global supply chain of PPEs, life saving drugs and equipments due to the pandemic only aggravated the situation. Further, the pandemic is a great threat to the livelihood security of millions of people belonging to the lower, lower-middle income category mainly due to the disruption of their normal economic activity. The strict lock-down measures which became essential to save lives have also had their share of contribution to the negative impact of the pandemic. At macro level, economies of many countries including India’s, have suffered set backs due to the pandemic. Therefore, it falls on the government of the day, to ensure that we rise up to the challenge and counter it with measures both economic and social to secure not only lives, but also livelihoods.

Immediate Response

4. As envisaged by our Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji, India based its Covid-19 strategy on the mantra "Jaan Bhi Jahan Bhi” i.e., we should care for both life and livelihood. India started its flight-screening systems from 17 January, a full 13 days before the first case of Covid-19 was detected in the country (on January 30); Screening and graded travel restrictions were increased step by step from mid-January upto March 11, when WHO finally declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic; Measures to propagate social distancing, including graded stoppage of international flights and suspension of visas, were implemented from March 11. And from March 24 a full-nationwide lockdown was imposed. Simultaneously, Government also took steps from time to time to lift restrictions taking into consideration the evolving situation and now we are in Unlock 3.0.

India started screening for COVID cases at the very early stage of its spread in the country. In comparison, Italy started screening 25 days after the first case, and Spain did so 39 days after its first case; We started partial lockdown within 52 days of the first case, by which time we had only 451 active cases. We moved to full lockdown on the 55th day of the outbreak in India, with only around 600 confirmed cases. Other countries have undertaken full lockdowns only after case loads rose beyond several thousands. This lockdown was truly unprecedented. It included, for instance stoppage of over 13,000 railway passenger services a day, for the first time in India’s history as a Republic. We also stopped all flight services, most public transport and so on. Even the WHO acknowledged that our public health responses were proactive, pre-emptive and graded. And yet we maintained continuity of essential services - power supply, water, energy, food products, banking, even delivering essential goods to the entire country.

5. Such measures were inevitable for India because we had no other realistic choice. It is a measure of the acceptance of this need that all political parties, in all of India’s 28 States and Union Territories willingly enforced the lockdown. This is because all public authorities in India knew that there are immense variations in availability of medical services and infrastructure in India. Therefore, an exponential rise in the infection rate could overwhelm our doctors and hospitals.

6. This nationwide lockdown and close observation of the data helped us to upgrade capacity regarding the availability of dedicated COVID hospitals, isolation beds and ICU beds; Ramp-up production and procurement of essential PPE sets, ventilators and testing equipment. Our private sector has been fully involved in the quest to make affordable local alternatives. Now, many of our Indian companies have been producing a large quantity of PPE kits. We have ensured a many-fold increase in supply of oxygen for medical purposes since February 1, 2020; expanded production of pharmaceutical supplies, from anti-pyretic tablets to Hydroxychloroquine, to meet domestic needs and we have started supplying them to the world. A few days ago our Ministry of Commerce has even liberalized exports of India made ventilators to foreign countries. As we increased the capacity to test potential Covid-19 patents, Government of India also co-opted many private labs. Today India is doing more than 400,000 tests per day and is looking to increase it further. We are also developing Indian testing kits to meet escalated demand for more liberalized testing. Our Government has also employed advanced technology to track and alert citizens of proximity to Covid-19 cases. This mobile App called ‘Aarogya Setu’ is being extensively used by our people not only to protect themselves from accidental exposure to Covid-19 virus but also take precautionary measures in case of such exposure. As on date 148.9 mn of our Citizens are using this App.

Measures during lockdown

7. As far as the socio-economic costs of the lockdown are concerned, the lockdown has not been easy or without socio-economic costs. For example, despite public assurances and exhortations from States and the Central Government, reverse migration from cities could not be stopped, especially in parts of northern and western India. This started several days after the lockdown was initiated. But in response, thousands of relief camps and shelters were set up, with relief provided by State Governments to more than 1.25 million people. Industry and NGOs were also actively involved in this effort. Nationwide food camps were organized and upto 7.5 million people were fed every day.

8. The management of the lockdown and the repercussions of it was monitored minutely by the Prime Minister himself several times a day. Healso spoke to Chief Ministers through video conference regularly. A Group of Ministers was constituted to review and monitor the contagion and responses in this regard. A Committee of Secretaries was coordinating our responses nationwide. And eleven Empowered Groups were set up for an integrated, all-of-Government response, including to bring on board civil society wherever feasible. A National Task Force of eminent public health and medical experts was also set up to guide our national strategy.

9. In terms of mitigation, the Prime Minister’s Garib Kalyan (Welfare of the Poor) Package set out US$ 22 bn to alleviate the situation of the poor and vulnerable, including farmers and labourers. This includes insurance for 220,000 health care workers (operationalized since 30 March). Food relief measures are being implemented to provide free foodgrain and lentils for 800 million people. LPG cylinders have been provided to 80 million poor households. Funds are being transferred through our direct cash transfer schemes to poor senior citizens, differently-abled people, and to indigent widows. Some 28 million people have received the first tranche of payments. Impoverished women holding Jan Dhan accounts are also receiving funds through these direct transfer schemes.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

10. The people of India have responded positively to the lockdown, recognizing the compulsions and the challenge before the country. People responded enthusiastically to Prime Minister’s call to demonstrate appreciation to health workers, and again to light lamps of hope. Indeed, recognition of the seriousness of the challenge can be gauged by the fact that Indians at every level of society are doing their best to follow instructions, as can be seen by the wide usage of masks.

11. Not only these, our efforts to bring back stranded Indian citizens from abroad by air, sea and land under "Vande Bharat Mission’ is also an important part of India’s fight against the Covid-19. It is one of the largest and most complex evacuation mission in the history of modern India, which requires inter-Ministerial cooperation at the Union level and close coordination with the State governments. So far more than 930,000 stranded Indians have returned home and now many are going back to the countries where they were working before the pandemic struck. Since there is a separate session on Vande Bharat Mission tomorrow, let me not get in to details of it here. But i would like to mention that not only we brought our stranded Citizens back but also facilitated repatriation of foreign nationals stuck in India. So far more than 120,000 foreigners belonging to 120 countries have been repatriated from India.

Ladies and gentlemen

12. India’s leadership has made a decision to convert the challenges posed by Covid-19 pandemic in to an opportunity for creating a better and self reliant India. On May 12, our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi ji announced Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, a campaign with the aim of making the country self reliant and usher in bold reforms which can transform the country in to a resilient nation contributing constructively to global economy and consumption. A special economic package of approx. USD 266 bn equivalent to 10% of India’s GDP has been announced to take this dream forward. We have already initiated various measures and reforms under the framework of Atma Nirbhar Bharat, which we believe will help India to recover quickly whenever the pandemic subsides and the global growth rebounds.

Ladies and gentlemen,

13. Though it is actively fighting the Covid-19, India has always been ready to help fellow developing countries, whether in its own region or elsewhere, in their fight against the pandemic. In our region, under the leadership of PM Modi ji, India took the lead in setting up of a SAARC Covid-19 Emergency Fund to meet the urgent financial requirements of regional countries to fight the pandemic. We have already made a commitment of USD 10 mn to the fund.

14. India has been credited for being the "Pharmacy of the World” as we ensured supply of essential medicines even while meeting our own domestic requirements. Delivery of these medicines has also cemented our reputation as the responsible stakeholder in global health supply chains. India provided medical assistance, in the form of essential drugs, test kits, protection gear, etc., to over 150 countries. Medical assistance worth approx. USD 11 million is being extended to over 80 countries as grants-in-aid. In addition, we facilitated clearance of commercial consignments of about 560 million hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) tablets and about 1.544 bn tablets of paracetamol, when these items were restricted for export. Restrictions on export of these medicines have since been lifted.

15. Government of India also undertook a number of medical and early responder missions across the world. Operation Sanjeevani delivered 6.2 tonnes of essential medicines and hospital consumables to the Maldives. We overcame daunting logistical challenges to supply medicines and medical items to Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Seychelles and the Dominican Republic. India also deployed Rapid Response medical Teams (RRTs) to help Maldives, Kuwait, Mauritius and Comoros deal with the pandemic. In line with the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)’ and India’s time-tested role as the first responder in the region, India launched Mission SAGAR, under which an Indian Naval Ship Kesari delivered coronavirus related assistance to Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles. This was the first time that a single operation covered all these countries in the region.

16. India’s readiness to ship life saving drugs to fight COVID-19 to other nations is a "Good Samaritan” act, in consonance with the ethos and our political philosophy of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. India is also in the process of producing a vaccine. Despite hardships, India is taking the lead in bringing the world together to place the common interests of humanity above narrow national interests.

Ladies and Gentlemen

17. Before i conclude, let me also briefly touch upon my Ministry’s Development Partnership Assistance in terms of ITEC programmes under the aegis of which today’s training programme is being organized. Our ITEC programmes meant for capacity building in developing countries have been reformed and revamped considering the requirements of the changing times and technology. As you might be aware, ITEC aims to enhance India's development cooperation with partner countries. eITEC is one of the new modalities for delivery of ITEC programme in which the learning is shifted to our partner countries and live online training is delivered by Indian faculties through video conferencing. In the context of Covid, till date, MEA has organised 10 such Covid-19 related eITEC training webinars in association with premier medical and governance institutions like All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, National Centre for Good Governance (NCGG), etc. in which around 850 trainees from all around the world have participated. These eITEC training programmes have been appreciated much and i hope our partner countries would continue to take advantage of them for developing their human resource.

18. In conclusion, I would like to thank Hon’ble Minister Dr. Jitendra Singh for his leadership and support to MEA in organizing these training programmes. It is heartening to see such a large number of participants from Africa and other regions in this training programme. I would like to thank all of you for attending this Webinar and hope you would find the discussions beneficial and fruitful.

Thank you. Jai Hind.

New Delhi
August 06, 2020

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