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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2706

Spectre of drought haunts India; Swine flu toll up too

By M Rama Rao, India Editor, Asian Tribune

New Delhi, 12 Aug ( The Indian Government is battling two major problems that have cropped up almost simultaneously – the Swine flu pandemic which claimed five more lives on Wednesday taking the toll to 17, and drought that is becoming pronounced with each passing day. Both problems have no quick fix solutions and this is adding to the headache of the Manmohan Singh government which started its second innings in May with a fund of goodwill.

The government has roped in private hospitals and laboratories in the drive against Swine flu and is working overtime even to get vaccine from overseas. It is goading the states to put in their best act as health is a state subject but these efforts have not paid off any dividends so far. Maharashtra appears to be the worst hit with flue related deaths reported from Pune, Mumbai and Nasik. The authorities have ordered shut down of schools, cinema halls and malls. Neighboring Gujarat, far away Kerala and Delhi have also come under Swine flu impact. So did Jammu and Kashmir.

With spiraling cases of swine flu, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad dispatched 35 senior officers after giving them a personal briefing. Their brief: ensure the states strictly follow guidelines issued by the ministry of health and family welfare and quickly identify labs for testing and hospitals in private and public sectors for screening, diagnosis and treatment of swine flu patients. The states have been asked to check reported sales of spurious Osel-tamivir in markets and start the process of procuring 2 crore Tamiflu tablets from pharmaceutical companies.

Low Cost Testing Kits

In a bid to find a cost-effective testing kit for swine flu, the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) is exploring the possibility of developing low-cost kits which can later be distributed across the country. As of now, the health ministry has decided to immediately procure 22,000 kits in addition to the 27,000 kits recently procured.

Three Indian companies are already working for development of vaccines for swine flu and one of them has already commenced animal trial of these vaccines. To ensure fast track production of vaccines, Azad asked the ICMR to “harmonise” animal trails of the vaccines being developed by these companies.

On their part, the states are also gearing up to fight the menace. The Government of Haryana has invoked the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897. Under this Act, it would be obligatory for private hospitals to notify any patient with swine flu-like symptoms to the nearest Government hospitals. The regulations of the Act would remain in force for one year. Delhi was the first to invoke the Epidemic Diseases Act, followed by Maharashtra where six persons have succumbed to swine flu.

Haryana has so far reported 38 positive cases of swine flu, out of which 27 have been discharged from various hospitals while 11 are still undergoing treatment.

The health authorities in Punjab have stepped up vigil and examination of passengers at Attari railway station and Wagha on the Indo-Pak border and the Amritsar international airport. A team of doctors is also deployed at Attari railway station, Wagha border and Amritsar international airport. Twenty-five cases have been reported from the State.

Out of the 14 samples from across Uttarakhand, eight samples were collected from Dehra Dun, while five from Haridwar and one from Nainital district. Fourteen fresh samples of throat swab of suspected swine flu patients in the State have been sent to New Delhi-based National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) for examination.

The Tamil Nadu Government has decided to set up more H1N1 testing centres in Madurai, Coimbatore and Tirunelveli and rope in private hospitals as part of stepped up efforts to contain spread of the deadly disease. There are reports of positive cases from Andhra Pradesh and northeast India as well.

Prices Sky Rocket

With monsoon failing across the country, sowing has come down by 20 per cent. The All India Rice Millers Association said that rice production may drop by 30 per cent this Kharif season.

Already prices have started shooting up. Reports here say that retail prices of food grain have gone up by as much as 32 per cent during June and July. Prices of pulses, sugar, groundnut oil, tea and potato have registered a hike, according to analysis of 14 essential commodities collated by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. The situation is expected to worsen with festival season round the corner.

According to reports available here, the retail price of tur, ruling at Rs 62 a kg in June, rose to Rs 82 a kg by the end of July. At present, tur sells for about Rs 90 a kg in many places across the country.

Chana dal (split chick peas), which was going at Rs 47 a kg in June in Kerala, now cost Rs 56 a kg by July-end. Potato prices have also gone up to Rs 22 a kg, while tea rates have climbed to Rs 290 a kg as on July 31.

Federation of All India Rice Millers Association said India may produce 30 per cent less rice this Kharif season at close to 60 million tonnes even if the monsoon revives this month, partially offsetting the huge deficit in sowing areas of the crop. India produced 84.58 million tonnes of rice in 2008-09 Kharif season.

“If monsoon revives in the next 15 days, it will be just like a silver lining in dark clouds. But rice output may still decline by 30 per cent this Kharif. And if it doesn’t rain, the production will dip further,” Federation Chief Executive Officer PC Kanodia said.

Paddy acreage is already down by about 58 lakh hectares to 228.19 lakh hectares mainly due to less rain in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Bihar. The situation in West Bengal, a major paddy growing State, is no better either with rice production slated to drop by 35 per cent this Kharif.

Met office said northwest India received 42 per cent deficient rain, followed by northeast (-36 per cent), south peninsula (-22 per cent) and Central India (-19 per cent).

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said 161 districts have been declared drought-prone and deficient rainfall will result in 20 per cent decline in sowing of summer crops.

He, however, said: “This country managed the century’s worst drought in 1987. We transported drinking water through railways. We organised fodder for the cattle. This country has the experience of handling the situation and I will advice not to press the panic button.”

-Asian Tribune -

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