Judge to Secy: In city of power, almost powerless in the face of scarcity

A top economist who has worked with the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council needed remdesivir last week and friends had to go to Twitter to spread the word and get help.

In this city of power, scarcity is hardly a headache for some — strings are pulled or a contact is called to cut in line or do a favour.

But the relentless second Covid wave and the crippling shortage of oxygen and beds have turned many a power equation upside down.

Of course, the well-heeled VIPs are still better off — they tap into their social circles and social media networks and celebrities amplify their SOS — but so acute is the shortage that there’s a growing number of cases where even that doesn’t help.

The Indian Express has confirmed cases involving the head of a Constitutional authority, members of the higher judiciary and top bureaucrats, who have struggled to get hospital beds or medicine either for themselves or for their family as Covid ravages the city.

In most of these cases, help reached them but only after networks were mobilised, levers were moved. As the Covid curve keeps climbing up, that’s an increasing challenge.

Names are being withheld to protect identities unless those involved have gone public.

One of the heads of a Constitutional authority needed a hospital bed for an immediate family member. Drawing a blank, he reached out to the political leadership. It was only after the intervention of a top leader that a bed was arranged — but not in the hospital the official had wanted.

A sitting judge of the Supreme Court had to struggle to find a bed for his relative at one of the top hospitals, one was eventually found.

A former Supreme Court judge, who lives in Delhi, had to send out an urgent message to his network, which included young lawyers, to ensure that his wife got the immunosuppressive, Tocilizumab.

A senior serving bureaucrat, who has worked in the Home Ministry, needed a hospital bed and had to work several phones to arrange one in the newly opened Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel DRDO Hospital

A top economist who has worked with the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council needed remdesivir last week and friends had to go to Twitter to spread the word and get help.

Former BJP Rajya Sabha member from Uttarakhand and former editor of RSS’s Panchajanya, Tarun Vijay, expressed his helplessnes looking for a bed for a cousin.

On April 23, he tweeted: “My elder cousin brother, 91, no plasma available, no oxygen cylinder. Hospital docs said — ghar le jaiye….Where are we heading to? Those without any connection, those who do not know any influential person, those who are just commoners…”

Two days later, he tweeted his cousin had passed away and he “wept seeing my cousin brother’s last moments”.

Eight days after he tested positive on April 10, BJP MLA from Nawabganj Kesar Singh wrote to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan for a bed in the city’s Max Hospital. That wasn’t available, he got a bed in a private hospital in Noida. Singh died Wednesday.

On Thursday, a Secretary at the Centre tweeted a “request for help” that a colleague “needs oxygen bed immediately”. The tweet was later deleted.

A senior bureaucrat associated with one of the Raisina Hill ministries who, along with some of his family members is suffering from Covid, admitted that he does not know where to go if his family needs help.

Before he tested positive, he said, he got calls from relatives for help but he couldn’t do much. “At this moment, I just don’t know where to jump,” he said. “I am not sure which head of a hospital will take my call.”

The chief of one of the top hospitals in the city, which is a major Covid centre as well, underscored what he calls the moral dilemma — on the other side. “It’s better that my phone is switched off,” he said, “I want to avoid being pushed into a position where I have to choose who should get access or who should not…let that call be taken by the doctors in the Emergency Ward.”

Given the sweep of the wave and the agonised wait for help, having this choice itself is power.

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