Mumbai and Pune are in panic over swine flu and as part of a sleeping government, I am a worried man. The healthcare system in Maharashtra is in shambles. In the villages, it is only notional. Swine flu may now be an urban phenomenon, but it will spread to rural areas because the government is in a slumber.
The decision to close down multiplexes in Mumbai and Pune as a precautionary measure against swine flu was short-sighted. How many people visit multiplexes on any given day? In fact, they find it difficult to fill up a theatre. It did not have any effect on the public or on the disease.
Also, it was a big farce. Owners of multiplexes and malls have politicians in their pockets. While they shut the multiplexes down, they preached to the mall owners to adopt a moral stand and not have discount sales. The question is, if they thought closing these establishments would help, why not shut them down for some time, instead of for a couple of days? The government even claimed it had to look for the exact rule to close down malls during the period of the flu. Then, under which rule does it give permission for them to operate?
This is election year and politicians need funds. Malls are a big source of money. Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and the state cabinet were not comfortable with even keeping multiplexes shut for three days because a strong lobby of MLAs was against it.
Finally, when the state decided to keep them closed, the whole act looked like a sham. Why keep only multiplexes closed when the malls in which they are located could do business? Is the government trying to say that people will contract swine flu from the multiplexes but not from the malls?
Ministers have a strong aversion to taking advice from bureaucrats. During an election year, there is no question of them even listening to us. There was panic amongst the public, so the closure order was more to score brownie points with the electorate than in public interest. It was only a knee jerk reaction. Nothing else.
(This health official is part of the team overseeing the anti-swine flu operations in Maharashtra)
As told to Haima Deshpande