The 2019-2020 union budget allocated Rs. 64,559 Cr. to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Rs. 4.3 Lakh Cr. to Ministry of Defence. There are expenses on health not included in this but that is compensated by the fact that a lot of defence funding is done through the Home Affairs ministry (especially of the forces and operations in Kashmir and Chattishghar) and the secret budgets for intelligence services are never revealed – so the comparison still holds. And a SIPRI report released yesterday shows that the actual publicly available defence spending was Rs 5.4 Lakh Cr.
<span;>And this trend is not new. For decades the fighter aircraft, carriers, missiles are eating away the money, manpower and technical expertise that could have instead created a stable healthcare system better prepared for something like Covid-19. Instead of producing guns and bombs, we could have produced masks and ventilators and instead of procuring missile defence systems from Israel and Russia, we could have procured material and tech for these health care needs.
<span;>This next one is a heartbreaking comparison to make but the most common argument for defence spending is that there is a violent threat to us that we need protection from and which justifies these astronomical spendings. Going by the worst-case scenario records, the total (Indian) death toll in last 50 years from wars, armed conflicts, insurgencies and terror attacks is no more than 2 lakh. We have passed this number officially and in reality, we have passed at least 5 times more than this number of deaths in the last year from Covid-19. It is as if we have fought a war each day for the last one year. And we have – it is the toll of the Indian elites class war against the population.
<span;>India was the worlds 3rd largest spender on military last year and ranked 131 on Human Development Index. Putting people over the interests of the State and its regional military dominance is not unique to this regime and will not go away after it.
<span;>Why is there a shortage of vaccines? Short answer is: patent monopoly and monopoly agreements. When a state funded research in collaboration with private pharma company results in a drug or vaccine there are atleast two option. Either the state can take rights over the medicine and pay the private firm for its contribution or, the state can grant the company monopoly rights to produce, set price and sell the product and have nothing to do with it. But the current social ideology of neo-liberalism tells us that we cannot do the former because it will create deficit if the state pays these companies – nevermind the “deficit” and burden inflicted on people in terms of drug costs which on average are 5-10 times higher. So, a single company gets the right over the medicine.
<span;>The rights to <span;>COVISHIELD are owned by AstraZeneca and its manufacturing rights in India have been given to Serum Institute. It is unclear who owns COVAXIN rights which was created under a PPP agreement with Bharat Biotech – the current pricing of the vaccine and tech-trasfer agreement with Haffikine Institute give a mixed impression but it is unlikely that Bharat Biotech doesn’t have a significant say in future manufacturing and pricing decisions.
<span;>The central government can grant compulsory license for both the vaccine and involve more private and crucially public manufacturers. This could have been done months ago. This can be done now. Not only will it ramp up production but also reduce the risk of single or few suppliers suffering accident or logistical issues. Recall that Serum’s production facility experienced a major accident few months ago (result of another neoliberal fetish – deregulation).
<span;>But this discourages “innovation” and alienates corporations. And of course alienating corporations is worse than couple of lakh people dead.
<span;>These policies too have support in all corners of political and elite circles and transcends Modi or BJP. They just represent the extreme wing of the elite consensus.
<span;>It’s because of the neo-liberal dogma that the level of inequality globally and in India is historically high and that jobs have collapsed. The result of which is people with insufficient savings and monthly income to survive economic and social lockdowns for even few days and who lose the last penny on rents, loans and medical bills. Deepening the spiral of poverty.
<span;>While all the work and needs today are understandably, for the most part, are local and hyperlocal the long term solution – which too are urgent must focus also on so-called “defence” eating away social wealth and corporate interest devouring the interest of the people and the planet.