Statement Against IIT Kanpur Report on UP Model

 (To endorse this statement, please complete this form. This statement is meant to be read in conjunction with a detailed critique of the IIT Kanpur report prepared by IITK Citizen’s Forum and Hamara Manch IITK, which can be found here.)

A purportedly scientific study by IIT Kanpur titled Covid War, UP Model: Strategies, Tactics, Impact has, over the past few weeks, been widely circulated, discussed, and reported on in the media. The report’s author and chief editor is Prof. Manindra Agrawal, a faculty member at IIT Kanpur and one of the principal architects of the so-called ‘SUTRA Model’, a compartmental model of infectious diseases.

The SUTRA Model is effectively an exercise in curve fitting with little predictive power or scientific merit. Indeed, the model has been empirically falsified multiple times and Agrawal et al. have repeatedly made incorrect public pronouncements based on it. For example, on 9 March, Agrawal announced on Twitter that “there will be no “second wave” in India.”[1] On 30 January, Agrawal et al. lauded the central government’s policies in a scientific paper and claimed that “it is easy to establish why the decisions taken have led to the avoidance of multiple peaks.”[2] 

When these predictions have turned out to be false, rather than accepting their errors, Agrawal et al. have simply retrospectively modified the parameters in their model so as to fit the new data. For instance, in a subsequent version of their paper, Agrawal et al. simply quietly deleted the sentence above[3] rather than explaining why their “easy” analysis establishing the Indian government’s ideal practices was flawed in the first place.  

The report itself is an uncritical reproduction of government data and the details of government programs, with the transparent aim of making it appear as if the Government of Uttar Pradesh has managed the pandemic better than any other state. Many of its claims are unsubstantiated, its conclusions are often exaggerated, and its data is presented in an obfuscatory manner. Agrawal and his team routinely confuse claims of government expenditure or effort with positive impact on its intended recipients; such claims must be backed by ethnography and fieldwork, and this report contains neither.  

On reviewing the reportage from Uttar Pradesh during the second wave, it becomes abundantly clear that the response of the UP government to the pandemic was woefully insufficient. The impact of these failures on many lakhs of working people has been staggering, and we are yet to fully appreciate the damage that has been done. This report is far from an honest appraisal of government policy, and serves no purpose other than to bolster the faulty science of its authors and the flawed policies of the state government.

We believe that IIT Kanpur, and academia more broadly, has a responsibility to study and weigh in on the government’s handling of the pandemic, so that the horrors we have witnessed do not repeat themselves. It is crucial, however, that these exercises be carried out in an open and honest manner, and not in a way that prioritises the interests of a specific government over the interests of the people.

In light of this, we find it unacceptable that the Director of IIT Kanpur should write a foreword endorsing the findings of such a report. We, the undersigned, condemn this effort to use IIT Kanpur’s imprimatur to whitewash the UP government’s gross mismanagement of the pandemic. 

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