When the country is fighting a pandemic, Kerala High Court is to soon pronounce its final order connected with data of suspected Covid patients.
The Pinarayi Vijayan Government, which was under a cloud over allowing US-based Sprinklr to collect this data, has in its recent affidavit made a U-turn and said Sprinklr would only provide the software and all data would be handled by Government-owned Centre for Development of Imaging Technology (C-DIT). It has also claimed that the interim order of the court had given it a clean chit. It told the court that Sprinklr would not have access to COVID-19 data.
What made it make such a pronouncement? It could be a move to avoid a court order favouring the petitioners, especially Congress leader Ramesh Chennitala who first raised the matter. Congressmen think this U-turn is its victory and there can be reasons enough to justify this.
But, there is a but. Things may stand in somebody's favour today. But that cannot be confirmed as things could change, and utterly too, tomorrow.
Today, Pinarayi government has certainly an upper hand in Kerala's politics, especially in the way it has handled the checking of the pandemic spread. He and his Health Minister KK Shylaja, have earned kudos even from the foreign media for what they did in the fight against corona. But tomorrow things would be different and hangs much on the High Court verdict. Perhaps that is why the government has now taken a different stand in the Sprinklr case. Earlier it had sought to defend itself arguing that Kerala was facing something unheard of and unexpected. So, it was necessary to take a very strange decision - giving the contract to the US-based firm.
The ifs and buts aren't unseen in Kerala. And it had told the court that massive collection of information of persons cannot be done by any company, except Sprinklr, and that's why it was chosen!
Now it has changed this stance. Sprinklr has been denied the job which has been given to CDIT; and Spinklr has no access to any data . In short it could be viewed as an attempt to please the court which had made certain adverse remarks earlier .The agreement with Sprinklr has been changed. It will be limited to just software updation. And it has been denied access to Amazon Cloud. Other things now before the court may not be very important , I think.
If the court decides in favour of the Kerala Government, it will be a massive win for Pinarayi. If otherwise, it could pose serious questions to the CPM and may take years to fully recover from this disaster. As an orthodox Marxist supporter, I hope it doesn't happen.
The Sprinklr issue, has been drawing attention in Kerala even when the pandemic has seen rising number of fatalities in the country, besides job loss and pushing several to penury.
The change in stand could mean the government was initially guilty and was in a reversal mode because its initial stance, as the court had hinted in interim order, was illogical and might not pass muster. It was time for the government to reflect.
But the change in stance, for obvious reasons, poses several new questions. Why did the government give the contract to the US company when there were local ones capable of doing the job? Besides there were better equipped and reputed US firms. The Government may not answer these questions as it is now fighting corona and the problems it has sprinkled, not just globally, but also across the State. The argument put forward by Marxist low and high guards that Sprinklr owner’s father was a Malayali and for the first few months Sprinklr was doing the job with no payment, will not wash. Keralites know well that a businessman can offer such paltry sums to gain much more.
They also know that information is vital, more important than even oil, and can be given to many big companies for a very high cost. In a nutshell the Sprinklr company is going to earn oodles.
Another important thing is the deal was struck by an IAS officer of Kerala, and the Chief Minister was the only man who knew about it. This is something quite unheard of in a democracy. It never happened even when EMS Namboodiripad was the Chief Minister. It was the party secretary who decided things then.
Covid patients and those suspected of having it now need not fear as the data is not with Sprinklr. All this controversy that can blemish the CPM could have been avoided had the government and the party done its homework. It can either mean Pinarayi was either taken unawares of the crisis, or his party too and did not see the fact that corona was one way for business to think of making big money.
The court hearing will continue. Chennitala may bring many more things to public knowledge. What he has done will be noted by his partymen. It is now for the court to pronounce whether what Chennitala said or what Pinarayi said was right as per rules which is fair.