India sets up R&AW like health intelligence unit


Covid-19 vaccination in Bihar Photo Credit Twitter Ministry of Health

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By S Jha

New Delhi, June 8: Smitten by the deadly outbreak of the Covid-19 while India wasn’t prepared to deal with the scale of the health emergency, the Central government is learnt to have set up a health intelligence unit under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Highly placed sources confirmed that the decision to set up a health intelligence unit was taken after the onset of the second wave of the Covid-19, which had accounted officially for 4,81,000 deaths in India.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its mortality assessment exercise had pegged deaths on account of Covid-19 in India at 4.7 millions, almost 10 times higher than the official figure in the country, which the government has strongly refuted.

Sources said that the decision to constitute a health intelligence unit on the lines of security related intelligence agencies was taken at the highest level with the approval of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is learnt to have backed the idea of forming an intelligence unit, which will keep a tab on threats to community health emanating from any part of the world.

“The health intelligence unit had started with a few people initially, but now more than 100 professionals are working. The unit is reporting to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The mandate to the agency is clear to keep an eye on any development in any part of the world, which can be a risk for the community health in India,” sources said.

The health intelligence unit sleuths will keep a tab on biological and chemical research taking parts across the world and leakage of viruses from the laboratory settings with potential threat to infect the humans and also lead to the community transmissions.

Sources said that the government will not make an official announcement of the agency on the lines of Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), which looks after the work of gathering external intelligence while the Intelligence Bureau (IB) gathers the inputs within the country.

The move has come with the assessment that the outbreak of global pandemic is a threat to India’s national interests with consequences of the community health and the national security amid growing assessment that biological warfare could be resorted to by some of the countries at a time.

The source of the Covid-19 outbreak was China and Beijing is yet to come clear on claims of the virologists that the anima-human transmission of the virus could have possibly been on account of a leak from its laboratories.

The Central government’s move is also on account of the fact, sources said, that the WHO was caught napping with the outbreak of the pandemic, first being in denial and then indulging in flip-flop over the exact nature of the virus while China rejected all pleas of the world leaders to share information.

While China is widely known in the intelligence circles to be testing a host of virus for the biological warfare, India has reasons to worry given that the two countries have long disputed border. China has also been seen to an expansionist, picking up skirmishes with neighbouring countries to push its border into the territories of the neighbours.

India being a key member of Quad is also fast emerging as a security rival of China in Indo-Pacific region.

It’s worthwhile to mention that India wasn’t prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic in the absence of testing laboratories and kits. The government had scaled up the facilities only after the outbreak of the pandemic.


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