Published: 22nd September 2020
Puducherry Lt Guv Kiran Bedi on lessons during COVID crisis: I am not an onlooker, need to ensure my people don't suffer
COVID-19 is like any other crisis, it tests the whole system, the attitude of the people and actually exposes them, said Puducherry Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi
Despite her perennial strife with the ruling government in Puducherry, Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi said that she refuses to be an onlooker when her people need it. "I have refused to be an onlooker and played the role of an administrator. I only filled in the gaps as the representative of the government of India here. I have been playing a coordinating, collaborating, facilitating role but with very serious limitations as the Disaster Management Act excludes the Lt Governor in a direct role. I played an indirect role, certainly, being very careful that things do not slip out of control," the retired IPS officer said while speaking about the COVID-19 situation in Puducherry.
She was in conversation with The New Indian Express' Editorial Director Prabhu Chawla and senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai during TNIE's e-expressions on the topic: 'Leadership lessons for young people in a COVID world' that was aired on September 22, 2020.
Puducherry has the highest number of COVID-19 patients per one lakh population in the country. Speaking about why it is so, Kiran Bedi went on to point out certain gaps in handling the pandemic. "They have heavily delayed equipping of the private medical colleges, we have seven of them, but they were not co-opted well in time to provide and offer their beds. I saw a very big gap between people's needs and facilities — they were not developing as per the challenges of COVID, that's why I thought we have suffered. People's suffering is common suffering and everyone is responsible for mitigation. We have not succeeded to an extent because of the delays, I couldn't fast forward until the Government of India stepped in. When I saw that we are running out of solutions, then I sent an SOS message to the PM's office, the health minister, ICMR and to the home secretary through a tweet. The testing numbers were going down, the infection was going up, hospital beds not available, people were wondering where to go. However, the Centre responded immediately. An ICMR and JIPMER team were put in position and people today have heaved a sigh of relief. My role is to see where the Government of Puducherry needs help and I get it," she said.
Responding to Prabhu Chawla when he asked her what she has learnt on the ground during this COVID crisis, Kiran Bedi added, "It is like any other crisis, it tests the whole system, the attitude of the people and actually exposes them. If you had a good governance system in place in non-crisis time, you can rise to the occasion and handle it better. Prior to the crisis, you had broken down systems, you were mending it already, people were also selectively law-abiding. COVID has exposed the bankruptcies, deficiencies of the system, particularly healthcare. It also revealed the ways people take instructions. It reveals your giving spirit, your patriotism, the character of people. The biggest thing that has been revealed is we do not work in a cooperative, collaborative manner in normal times, how will we rise to the occasion in a crisis?"
Moving on, Prabhu Chawla asked how one could convince one's own people to maintain mask discipline and social disciplining — several states have been collecting fines — but does that make a difference? To this, the Lieutenant Governor responded that the answer lay in education, "With the new NEP trying to ingrain the age-old values in the youth, we will see a change in the new generations to come. The root is in education, within homes, community leaders — education will go back to elders, back to parents — what messages they are conveying. Five to seven years from now, our children will learn to follow orders again. How the NEP will help is in bringing value education back, hands-on learning, skill-oriented, learning by experience, vocational skills, opening up options for yourself and learning about the Indian culture. This will help people to understand better."
The mortality rate is also quite high in Puducherry compared to the other union territories in the country. Explaining why this might have been, she added, "The reasons are many. The ICMR team is supposed to send a regular and monthly report and I asked them to give an analysis of what caused these increase in deaths. I cannot rush to a conclusion yet. There's still a long way ahead so we need to know what went wrong/right, what lessons we learnt, how did we perform, where did the delay happen, why the decline in testing and so on. ICMR is helping the entire administration but it's also mandated to report to the governor."
Finally, she concluded by saying what we should learn from a crisis like the pandemic. "It has left us to recalibrate, taught us all are equal and nobody is more or less. So, rather than lamenting, take it forward, build on your health and skills. Learn to be law-abiding when you are young, it will help you later. Remain grateful, time is very precious, nothing is permanent. India needs proactive karma yogis to become Aatmanirbhar. My appeal to the PM is to make it mandatory for everyone to spend the first hour in the morning in the field. This will help them in becoming fitter and solve a lot of problems," she said.