THE AREA OF Israel is around 22,000 square kilometres. Its population is only 90 lakh.
Maharashtra, just one state of India, is 14 times the size of Israel and 12 times its population. Even a small state like Kerala beats Israel on both counts. This comparison is necessary if one wants to understand why India is lagging in vaccinating its population. Israel has given vaccine doses to around 88 per cent of its population. It had the foresight and drive to negotiate with vaccine manufacturers and ensure supplies.
If India looks at itself as one enormously populated nation, then it would have been impossible to emulate Israel. That is why only around 1 per cent have got vaccine shots here. But, with most states in India as big as a small country, if the Centre had allowed them freedom for their own vaccine procurement strategies, then the more efficient ones would have clocked larger numbers than at present.
This insistence on control is not just when it comes to states alone.
This week, the Government decided to allow private hospitals to take part in vaccinations. Just before that corporate leaders, in a meeting with the finance minister, had suggested that the private sector be included in the vaccination drive. Wipro founder Azim Premji said just that measure could get 50 crore people vaccinated within 60 days. That private hospitals are only now to do it tells you the time that is already lost. They could have negotiated and procured from vaccine manufacturers earlier. Even now, all of India has to rely on just two vaccines because the Government has decided so.
The reason for such close-fistedness both towards states and the private sector is because the Government trusts no one except itself, whereas it is often the most suspect agency to carry out anything with competence. This simple lesson is never learnt because the person who needs to imbibe it is the Government itself, and why would it take away its own power. It only does so when the signs of failure become clear, and it is forced to outsource what it was never equipped to do alone. This happened a year earlier with Covid tests too. To keep a lid on the private market when the Government can continue all that it is doing anyway is to refuse assistance that comes without cost.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, in a recent Joe Rogan podcast, had an instructive reason for such an attitude—governments are tuned to punish for doing things that go wrong but the punishment for not doing the right thing is never there. It is safe for the machinery to get away with inertia because there is no personal cost involved. But it comes at a public cost in lives lost or livelihoods damaged. Every single day of delay in herd immunity postpones the return of life as it once was.