The officer who became a scapegoat

Vivek Kumar’s head rolled, as he held his head too high. This drew the attention of certain people who felt challenged.

 |  3-minute read |   20-05-2020
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Not long ago, the state heard Vivek Kumar singing a famous song by Atul Prasad Sen: Hou dhoro mete dhir/ Hou koromete Bir / Hou unnoto shir/ Nahi Bhoi, at a programme organised by IAS officers on their annual Civil Services Day. The gist of the song’s lyrics is an exhortation to hold one’s head high without any fear.

Kumar, then Principal Secretary of Information and Culture, and his singing talent came as a surprise to many. Even Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sitting on the front row couldn’t agree more. A few days ago Vivek Kumar, who was Principal Secretary of the Health Department till his transfer order came, made an exit with his head held high, and was transferred to the Environment Department.        

Apparently, the transfer is to make Kumar a scapegoat for all the goof-ups in the health scenario over low testing, suppressing facts about Covid positive patients, and above all the alleged fudging of the death toll. But the real reason was Kumar’s reluctance to be in tune with the West Bengal government and its handling of the pandemic. 

main_vivek-kumar_052020050752.jpgFormer Principal Secretary (Health) Vivek Kumar who has been transferred.

On April 29 the CM washed her hands of the Health Audit Committee by saying in a press conference, that she and her junior Health Minister had no role behind its formation. Holding the state Health Secretary Kumar and a team of health experts responsible for coming up with the idea of auditing the Covid deaths, she said she had no idea about the panel: “I didn’t form the death audit committee. I didn’t even know who all are there. The Chief Secretary and the health secretary are the authorised persons.”

According to sources in bureaucratic circles, Kumar did not like this, as he was against the down-playing of the pandemic scenario in Bengal, by initially going for low testing and coming up with limited cases. The word is playing with the figure of fatality by differentiating deaths -- Covid induced or aggravated by concurrent illness, was something Kumar was not able to reconcile with. Known as an efficient and upright officer, who earlier served as higher education and information and culture departments well, Banerjee was pleased with Kumar in his I&C days.

When Kumar was brought in the health department, the state was hit by the Dengue outbreak. He was thought to be competent enough to handle the situation. In the initial days of Covid-19, Banerjee was pleased with him. But problems started when she began relying on health experts and their suggestions regarding tackling Covid 19. There were sharp differences between Kumar and a section of authorities, especially over authorising a health expert committee to take a call on declaring Covid-related deaths, even though it had no hands-on-experience in these cases. There was another area where the Health Secretary’s warnings about the quality of PPEs were unheeded. Kumar is reported to have objected against the purchase of certain PPEs. As Health Secretary, he had to sign procurement orders, even though he had reservations over the quality, the price and the method of purchase. He requested that he be relieved, and to go on leave in the middle of the health emergency. Relief came but only after he was made to look like a villain of the piece. He was transferred, having to shoulder the responsibility of the illogical Health Committee, auditing deaths, and allegations of tampering with figures. Kumar’s head rolled, as he held his head too high, which drew the attention of people who felt inconvenienced and challenged.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Didi Ke Bolo vs Dada Ke Bolo: Who is winning the battle for Bengal?

Writer

Romita Datta Romita Datta

The writer is Associate Editor, India Today.

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