Ashwin Mahesh Profile picture
The challenges we face are complex. They cannot be solved without hard work, or without the public participation of informed, problem-solving citizens. (RHO)
25 May
Yesterday, after I asked if people would like to intern / volunteer / take short term jobs with the covid relief and rebuild efforts, a lot of people emailed their interests. Among them were some school children. That was a surprising twist, but I should have expected it ...
There are a lot of high-schoolers out there who are simply outstanding. And their familiarity with some of the technologies available today makes them far more effective in some roles than their parents' generation (looking in the mirror here :-))
The conventional understanding of the capacity of people to do things is too closely linked to 'markers' (including age). That's not necessary. I've given a few of these young heroes tasks, and am hopeful that these will be only the first of many in a fulfilling life for them.
Read 4 tweets
7 May
The lock-down will not work. It cannot UNLESS it is accompanied by food security measures. Too many people have no choice but to leave their homes if they want to eat. And if they have to choose between the risk of dying by hunger or by covid, they'll choose covid.
The millions of people on the streets during every (even partial) lockdown should tell us that much. We are not yet at economic levels of stock-and-consume for the majority of the population. For most people, therefore, defying the lockdown is a necessity.
The 18-item food kit that Kerala provided is a good thing to copy, for any state that wants to implement a lockdown. It's the only fair and ethical way to do it. And it might have some impact in slowing the spread of the virus. Anything else is activity without achievement.
Read 4 tweets
7 May
Phrases like cryogenic tankers, 'concetrators, ICU beds, cylinders, and things like that, are swirling about. Most of which I'd not heard of until recently. But some picture of the problem is emerging, and the various flows of money and equipment are starting to become visible.
There is a list of 250 hospitals in the state, around which I think the major interventions have to focus. I would like to know exactly where they are. It could be legwork online, or local knowledge - but district wise, this is needed.
@sagargubbi Do you know where this one is - City Central Hospital in Davangere district?
Read 4 tweets
7 May
Why have state governments conceded so much space to the Centre that they are now more or less just being dragged along by any policy that New Delhi comes up with, even on state matters? There are three reasons - indifference, party hierarchy, and money.
For most of the state governments, 'Centre-State' relations and governance are not top of their agenda. They are in 'power' and they pursue something else. In this scenario, it does not matter whose policy is being advanced, and what it does to the structure of government.
Even if some of them were to occasionally think about all this, they are so hard-wired into the notion that the Centre is 'superior' to them that they don't question it. Especially elected reps from 'national' parties are very careful in avoiding 'state versus centre' issues.
Read 4 tweets
6 May
Election Commission gets slapped down in the Supreme Court. Its plea to expunge the remarks of Madras HC that its officers should be held responsible for loss of many lives was rejected. Its other plea, that court proceedings should not be reported in public, was also shot down.
The second part is more important. I don't think the EC has any self-respect; it has allowed its image to drop quite badly anyway. The first plea was only a cover for the second one, which would have had implications for many other important cases in the higher courts.
The court not only blew that away, the judges also set the bar higher for anyone else in the future who wants to put curbs on media coverage of courts. The EC is like many other gross under-performers in our governance; it cannot even do the bad things efficiently.
Read 4 tweets
5 May
50,000+ new covid cases in Karnataka, and still rising from day to day. And the Centre now says we must prepare for a third wave. We the people are trying to prepare as best as we can. How about you, the people in the governments?
4 lakh cases again nationwide, and record deaths. 100+ deaths even in several of the smaller states. And these are just the recorded numbers. Those who don't get admitted at all die unseen by the system, but their families' tragedies are no less severe.
Active cases in Bengaluru now at 3.1 lakhs - six times higher than Mumbai, and three times the number in Delhi. Absolutely caught in a 'deer in the headlights' moment with no clue how to even organise a defense against the virus.
Read 4 tweets
5 May
As anticipated by the Constitutional Conduct Group, the recently retired Chief Election Commissioner is now the Governor of Goa. Elections coming up there too. He can do dual duty !!
'Revolving door' rules should apply to people in statutory and constitutional bodies as well, barring them from holding public offices for some years after they retire.
Julio Ribeiro's article on this - "The Election Commission was a proudly independent institution. It celebrated the reign of democracy in our ancient land. Alas, not anymore. Our own colleagues have ensured its slow death."
tribuneindia.com/news/comment/t…
Read 4 tweets
4 May
Data. Once the Delhi High Court started looking at the data on tankers, oxygen, etc. it became obvious who is doing what, and who is not. Issued show-cause notices to Central govt, threatening contempt action. Senior officials of Industries Dept summoned to court tomorrow.
Delhi’s 'Oxygen Bulletin' - 3rd May 2021:
- Demand: 976 MT
- Supply: 433 MT

Meanwhile, the first of the 21 oxygen plants being imported by the State government from France installed at CWG village.
Delhi and Mumbai will get over the hump sooner than other places, although they are hit hard. They have their own funds (in MH, thanks to decentralisation to BMC) which allows faster local action. Large states have to deal with a much larger problem in the hinterland districts.
Read 4 tweets
4 May
Have we reached the point where more people are dying from lack of care than from Covid itself? The reason is simply. Capacity is a key determinant of survival rates. Te health care infra is weak and was overwhelmed even by the numbers we saw in the first wave. This is beyond it.
If a hospital can hold survival rates about 99% while treating a max of 100 patients at a time, it can at best stretch itself to treat 150 at a time without worsening the survival rate. In the current scenario, it has to deal with 1000 patients, and that's for Covid alone.
That means, beyond 150 patients no one is getting even a minimum level of care. In that scenario the survival rate drops quickly for all 850. Even if we rush new infra and equipment to hospitals in two weeks, we could still see 3000+ officially recorded deaths for a whole month.
Read 5 tweets
4 May
Every once in a while, we hit a moment in our politics when it's useful to revisit 'federalism'. Two winning CM-designate leaders have now written to the PM, urging cooperative federalism. But what is this federalism? Here's the unroll from The Federal Manifesto I put together.
1. Federalism must be a first principle of organising administration, resources, responsibilities, powers, etc. between different levels of government. Wherever there are choices to be made between alternatives, the most federal choice should receive primacy over others.
2. Each district should have an elected government covering both rural and urban areas. Most services currently provided by the state governments should be devolved to districts, and a guaranteed share of state revenues should devolve to them.
Read 12 tweets
3 May
24 patients at a hospital in Chamarajanagar have died as the oxygen flow ran out. The hospital CIMS is facing a ten-fold increase in the demand for oxygen. No one in the government has understood the gravity of the situation we face, in many small towns across India.
We have concentrated even the minimal physical infrastructure for everything in a few large cities. There is a massive drop-off in almost everything even 20-30 km outside the top 3 to 5 cities. And being a large state, distance slows down the response to crises everywhere.
There was more interest shown by the government and the opposition in the bye elections in a few constituencies. It's the same story everywhere - nothing deters their attention from politics and power. The consequences are borne by ordinary citizens, paying with their lives.
Read 6 tweets
2 May
Scarcity is the main weapon of the corrupt. They maintain a limited supply of most things (housing, doctors, crematoriums, public transport, schools ... all sorts of things) so that there is a scramble for these things, and a queue of ppl pleading for help. Rent-seeking follows.
In normal times, people stretch themselves to get by with this, for many reasons (time, bandwidth, disregard, resignation). But these are not normal times. There's no getting by without oxygen and ventilators and drugs. But scarcities don't disappear overnight.
Electoral competitions between rent-seekers is not going to fix this problem. We need governments committed to abundance, in a public way. Leaders must dramatically increase the inputs to development - education and health facilities, and paths to livelihoods in different ways.
Read 5 tweets
1 May
Now the Bamar majority wants to join hands with the ethnic minorities in Myanmar to tackle the military. For all these years, the same majority cheered the persecution of minorities, but now that soliders are shooting at them too .... change of heart? No. Calculated, more likely.
The story of 'first they came for others, but I didn't do anything because I was not one of them' is quite an old one. Eventually, we are all them. The story of 'I didn't do anything myself' is also an old one. Doing nothing in the face of evil isn't a case for absolution.
With the military fighting the people on multiple fronts, there is a real danger of Myanmar disintegrating into a war zone on our borders, with arms and drugs running wild. Beyond talking about looking east, India needs to see what is plainly evident.
Read 5 tweets
1 May
Yesterday the Supreme Court wanted to know why, when there are 10 PSUs that can license and manufacture vaccines, the government instead gave a grant of Rs.4500 crores to the private sector to do that. The answer that cannot be told - those PSUs couldn't save anyone.
We have various navaratnas and various kinds of other jewels in our PSU crown. But most of them are biding time, and are not really market-facing firms that know how to operate with the pressures of time and costs. Imagine giving the vaccine production job to them!
The large Indian population has given some of the PSUs a volume business, but usually at low levels of operating efficiency, and sometimes by transfering or not counting costs they should be including in their accounting. They are more like Plodding Sector Undertakings.
Read 4 tweets
1 May
More than four lakh new cases yesterday. A little more than a week ago, three lakhs was considered a big breach in the defenses. But it keeps growing. And these are only the recorded numbers. The real numbers are probably over a million a day.
The case count is beyond control. I don't think, given the kind of public administration we have, anything can be done about infections beyond the precautions we take individually. The virus is simply everywhere. The vaccine rollout is also slow. That leaves only one option.
We have to boost the capacity of hospitals and clinics to keep people alive. This means a massive supply of ventilators, oxygen, ICUs beds and drugs to as many facilities in the country as possible. And more new facilities, initially make-shift but intended to be permanent.
Read 4 tweets
30 Apr
Supreme Court asks whether provisions of patent law, which allow the government to set aside patents to enable a public good outcome, have been considered. And whether vaccine and drug production can be ramped up if this is invoked.
All of this reminded me of an old article by George Monbiot. The history of patent law, its use and abuse by countries, and the growth of large companies in countries without patent protection, is quite interesting.
indiatogether.org/patent-op-ed
The court is also asking the government about the price of vaccines (which seems much higher in India than abroad), and what is being done to keep prices affordable as per the Drug Prices Control Order. Also asks why Centre isn't buying all vaccines at its cost.
Read 4 tweets
28 Apr
The number of tests carried out in Delhi is now more than 85% of the total population. Effectively, that's more than 1 test per adult in the city. In Haryana it is 25%, in UP it is about 17%. Similar large differences exist in ventilators, oxygen, etc.
Areas of Haryana and UP that are closer to Delhi may be slightly better than their state averages. Nonetheless, what these numbers show is that Delhi is picking up a very large part of the deficit in surrounding areas. To ease that, those areas too need to do their part.
The public does not have the luxury of sifting through the claims of governments. They go with something they can judge better - the experiences of people they know. If that experience tells them to 'go here' instead of 'there', that's what they will do.
Read 4 tweets
27 Apr
The top 15-20 cities in the country have 80-90% of the ventilation and oxygen supply facilities. One reason for the very large crush of demand in the cities is that even as little as 20 km away from them, there is a steep drop in critical care infrastructure.
When '20 km away' is still in the same state, the government should respond to this with a comprehensive plan for a large region around the city. If this is not done, the facilities that do exist will be swamped because they are suddenly asked to serve a much larger base.
Governments have always acted on the assumption that critical care patients will travel to the city to be served. But that's a kind of discrimination. While some services can only exist at sufficiently aggregated points, the hierarchy runs through virtually everything.
Read 5 tweets
27 Apr
The word 'review' is over-used in talking about political leaders taking stock of things. Most leaders dont have the capacity to comprehend much of what they're told or they observe, let alone review. It's mostly for photo-shoots and press releases. That's understandable, but ...
If, separate from the political made-for-media actions, there is also an actual process of review and analysis, then it would be alright to have leaders put in an appearance. But invariably, the photo-shoot and PR is the ONLY kind of review that goes on, and that will never do.
We need professional processes to respond to complex problems. Those require staffing by capable people who are left to do their jobs professionally and with accountability. Such people don't mind working without the spotlight, but they expect their leaders also to be competent.
Read 7 tweets
26 Apr
Bengaluru Urban district now has the highest number of active Covid cases in the country. A distinction we can do without. The worst part is, there's no sign that any sort of different course is being set. We're still resorting to the same 'solutions' that got us this dishonour.
And now comes the lockdown. The great irony is, the people are repeatedly told what they cannot do, while the governments are not on the hook for what they should be doing. A lockdown without a containment plan is simply a postponement.
In the states too, the story is the same as at the Centre. When governments take the stance that 'we know everything', they become responsible to demonstrate that. Especially in double-engine states, where there is no one else to share the blame with !!
Read 6 tweets
26 Apr
Madras HC slams Election Commission, calling it singularly responsible for the second wave of Covid. Officials should be booked for murder - what a slap !! The EC, unfortunately, was among the worst institutions in India even before Covid. The pandemic just made that clearer.
In the name of conducting free and fair elections, the EC has - for decades - conducting polls that are so clearly anything but free and fair. Money, muscle, ruling party bias, incompetence, unaccountability, violence, etc have provided the dominant narrative of its work.
To me, this failure is far worse than anything else. It has resulted in a pandemic of unchecked terrible politics in the country. And once that happens, the rest of the pandemics, of whatever scale, are just queued up to hit us one after the other.
Read 5 tweets