Former Pune Mayor Datta Ekbote succumbs to COVID-19

Noted Socialist leader and former Pune Mayor Dattatraya Ekbote, who had recently tested positive for COVID-19, passed away early on Thursday at the city’s Sassoon General Hospital, aged 84.

Mr. Ekbote, who had fought for the rights of bidi workers and other deprived classes and was affectionately known as ‘Datta’, had held positions in the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Party before joining the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

According to sources, Mr. Ekbote had futilely contacted a number of private hospitals to secure a critical care bed after he had tested positive. Eventually, he admitted himself the Sassoon Hospital where he reportedly did not receive proper treatment.

“It was only after an ex-corporator got in touch with local Congress leaders, senior NCP leaders like (Deputy Chief Minister) Ajit Pawar, and Ankush Kakade, as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP for Pune, Girish Bapat, that critical care facilities were made available for Mr. Ekbote,” said a Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) corporator, requesting anonymity.

He passed away in the intervening night between Wednesday and Thursday, said hospital sources.

The veteran leader had tragically lost his 45-year-old son Ravi, who too, had tested positive for COVID-19 on August 31. He is survived by his wife, two daughters and a grandson.

Mr. Ekbote’s death, coming barely a day after television reporter Pandurang Raikar succumbed to the virus allegedly because he could not get a ventilator bed and a cardiac ambulance on time, has again raised questions on the state of Pune’s medical infrastructure.

“Pune has now become the No. 1 COVID-19 hotspot in the country. Yet, its medical infrastructure lies in shambles. The newly set-up 800-bed jumbo COVID-19 facilities, built with crores of the taxpayers’ money, lacks trained medical staff. Complaints of critically ill patients not getting food and proper medical care in these centres are flying thick and fast,” said Ramesh Iyer, Pune city Congress general secretary and party spokesperson.

Alleging that as many as 23 patients had succumbed in the newly set-up jumbo facilities within a week’s time, Mr. Iyer remarked that it was high time that the district administration be made accountable for their poor planning and utter lack of coordination.

“In July, botanist Dr. Lakshminarasimhan lost his life because he could not get an ICU bed on time. Then journalist Pandurang Raikar, and now Mr. Ekbote. Not to mention scores of less well-connected citizens who died because of the administration’s negligence. Who is to blame for all this? Authorities must be made accountable from now on,” he said.

Mr. Iyer said that planning for ramping up the district’s health infrastructure ought to have started in March itself.

“When the virus began spreading rapidly in the city’s slum clusters in April, the then District Collector, Divisional Commissioner and PMC (Pune Municipal Corporation) Commissioner ought to have begun preparing for the drastic surge in cases that they surely knew would take place in the monsoon season. However, nothing was done then and not much is being done now,” he said, adding that despite the administration claiming to have streamlined bed management data on the administration dashboard, deficiencies continued to persist.

Noting that the Pune district’s total case tally had crossed Delhi’s figures, Mr. Iyer said that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray must personally monitor the situation in order to prevent it from deteriorating further.

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