rammed into a group of protesting farmers, resulting in the deaths of four protesters along with four other people, including a local journalist. The son of one of Mr. Modi’s ministers is among those under investigation in connection with the episode.

That incident, which came after the protesters decided to shadow campaigning B.J.P. officials to draw cameras, may have been a turning point. The B.J.P.’s poll numbers soon dropped in Uttar Pradesh, where the deaths took place. Party officials began to worry that they could lose the state in elections set for early next year.

A day after Mr. Modi’s surprise announcement, the mood near Singhu, a village in the state of Haryana that borders the capital, was somber. Religious music and political speeches blared from loudspeakers across the makeshift village of bamboo huts, where people hawked T-shirts and flags that said, “No farmers, no food.”

Outside one of the huts serving free vegetarian lunch, Mr. Prakash, the farmer, described sleeping though cold weather and rain next to a busy road, leaving his farm in the care of his brothers’ children.

Mr. Prakash, who lives off his pension from 20 years in the Indian Air Force, does not need the farm to survive. Instead, holding on to the seven acres he and his siblings inherited from their parents ensures they can maintain a middle class life in a country where the vagaries of the economy often suck people back into poverty.

Mr. Prakash said that the family farm had supported his ambitions, and that he wanted the same for his children.

“To save our motherland,” he said, “we can stay here another two years.”

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

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Why India’s Farmers Are Protesting

After a year of sustained protests by farmers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has conceded to their demands and said his government would repeal farm laws that his government had enacted to overhaul the country’s agricultural sector.

It was not in dispute that India’s previous system, which incentivized farmers to grow a huge surplus of grains, needed to be fixed. The protesters feared that the haste with which the laws were passed and the breadth of the changes they involved would send crop prices plunging. Mr. Modi’s government had argued that introducing market forces would help fix the system.

back to their villages. For years, debts and bankruptcies have been driving farmers to high rates of suicide.

The protesters challenged Prime Minister Modi’s efforts to reshape farming in India.

They called for Mr. Modi to repeal laws passed in September 2020 that would minimize the government’s role in agriculture and open more space for private investors. The government said the new laws would unshackle farmers and private investment, bringing growth. But farmers feared that the removal of state protections, which they already considered insufficient, would leave them at the mercy of greedy corporations.

Government support for farmers, which included guaranteed minimum prices for certain essential crops, helped India move past its hunger crisis of the 1960s. But with India liberalizing its economy in recent decades, Mr. Modi — who wants the country’s economy to nearly double by 2024 — realized that such a large government role in the farm sector was no longer sustainable.

Farmers, however, contended that they were struggling even with the existing protections. They feared that market-friendly laws would eventually eliminate regulatory support and leave them bereft, with the weakened economy offering little chance of a different livelihood.

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India’s Toxic Air Pollution Prompts Supreme Court to Act

NEW DELHI — A thick blanket of noxious haze has settled over the Indian capital of New Delhi, burning eyes and lungs, forcing schools to close and prompting ardent calls from residents for action.

India’s leaders have responded with what has become an annual tradition: by pointing fingers at one another.

The central government, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is accusing city officials of inaction, and vice versa. The country’s Supreme Court has stepped in to shut down factories and order farmers to stop burning fields. But the court’s other efforts, which last year included ordering the installation of a pair of air-scrubbing filter towers, have been derided as ineffectual.

The airborne murk and the towers stand as symbols of India’s deep political dysfunction. The choking pollution has become an annual phenomenon, and the country’s scientists can accurately predict the worst days. But deep partisanship and official intransigence have hindered steps that could help clear the air.

by major wildfires. It criticized officials for what it called their “don’t take any step” position.

India was home to 15 of the 20 cities with the most hazardous air globally, and health experts have detailed how such conditions can lead to brain damage, respiratory problems and early death.

Weaning the country off coal and other dirty fuels will be difficult, a reality underscored by climate negotiations that took place in Glasgow, Scotland, this month. India already struggles to meet its basic power needs. During the Scotland talks, India and China teamed up to insist upon a last-minute amendment to the language of the accord, to “phase down” coal rather than ease it out.

Mr. Modi argues that India’s increasing use of coal and other fossil fuels is helping build an economy that is lifting millions out of poverty. But emissions from burning coal make the pollution problem worse for city dwellers, particularly the poor, who cannot afford air purifier machines or the electricity to run them.

Adesh Gupta, the Delhi president of Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, said that Delhi’s top elected official, Arvind Kejriwal, should resign.

“Instead of making Delhi a world-class city as he claimed, Kejriwal has made it a smog city,” Mr. Gupta said.

clearing their fields with fires.

“Farmers in neighboring states are compelled to burn stubble as their governments are doing nothing for them,” Mr. Kejriwal said.

The Supreme Court stepped in last year, too, ordering the two sides to take steps like enforcing a ban on farm fires and capturing power plant emissions. It also ordered Delhi early last year to build the two experimental smog towers, despite experts’ doubts about their impact. A study last year in the peer-reviewed journal Atmosphere called the approach unscientific.

“Can we vacuum our air pollution problem using smog towers? The short answer is no,” the researchers said.

Still, they are a tempting refuge for people desperate to escape the city’s bad air.

As a coppery sun set behind smoky skies, Jasmer Singh rested under a smog tower in central Delhi as it sucked in polluted air. A monitor measuring the levels of dangerous particulate matter showed that the air it spit out was slightly cleaner, but far from what the World Health Organization considers safe.

Still, Mr. Singh, a volunteer at a nearby Sikh temple, said, “around here, the air is good, lighter and better.”

Some members of both Mr. Modi’s party and the opposition say they want to take a serious, nonpartisan look at the problem.

“The blame game will be always there,” said Vikas Mahatme, a lawmaker with the B.J.P. Summing up the attitudes of many politicians, he said, “Why one should bother about other states? They are not voters to consider.”

Still, getting all sides to work together will be difficult, he acknowledged. “We are not very active,” he said. “I tell you freely.”

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India’s Black Market Preys on Desperate Covid-19 Victims

NEW DELHI — Within the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak, few treasures are more coveted than an empty oxygen canister. India’s hospitals desperately need the metal cylinders to store and transport the lifesaving gas as patients across the country gasp for breath.

So a local charity reacted with outrage when one supplier more than doubled the price, to nearly $200 each. The charity called the police, who discovered what could be one of the most brazen, dangerous scams in a country awash with coronavirus-related fraud and black-market profiteering.

The police say the supplier — a business called Varsha Engineering, essentially a scrapyard — had been repainting fire extinguishers and selling them as oxygen canisters. The consequences could be deadly: The less-sturdy fire extinguishers might explode if filled with high-pressure oxygen.

“This guy should be charged with homicide,” said Mukesh Khanna, a volunteer at the charity. “He was playing with lives.” (The owner, now in jail, couldn’t be reached for comment.)

this month that “the moral fabric of the society is dismembered.”

Over the past month, the New Delhi police have arrested more than 210 people on allegations of cheating, hoarding, criminal conspiracy or fraud in connection with Covid-related scams. Similarly, the police in Uttar Pradesh have arrested 160 people.

“I have seen all kinds of predators and all forms of depravity,” said Vikram Singh, a former police chief in Uttar Pradesh, “but this level of predation and depravity I have not seen in the 36 years of my career or in my life.”

have swooped in to connect those in need with lifesaving resources.

The ad hoc system has limits. Vital supplies like oxygen are still stuck in bottlenecks, and people keep dying after hospitals run out. Vaccine and pharmaceutical makers can’t keep up. Politicians in some places are threatening people who publicly plead for supplies.

Infections and deaths are widely believed to be many times more numerous than the official figures indicate, and in hospitals across India, all the beds have been filled and people are dying for lack of oxygen or medicine.

Accusations by one doctor in Madhya Pradesh have gone viral. The doctor, Sanjeev Kumrawat, said he tried to stop a local activist for India’s governing party from selling access to beds in a government hospital where he works. “We all know that to get a bed is a big struggle all around,” Dr. Kumrawat said in an interview. “Government resources are to be distributed equitably and can’t become the property of one person.”

thousands of vials of fake remdesivir during a bust. A tipster led them to a factory where they recovered 3,371 vials that were filled with glucose, water and salt.

Many other doses had already been sold and maybe even put into patients’ bodies, the Gujarat police said, posing a public health risk of unknown scale.

Those who turn to the black market often know they are taking a gamble.

Anirudh Singh Rathore, a 59-year-old cloth trader in New Delhi, was desperately seeking remdesivir for his ill wife, Sadhna. He acquired two vials at the government-mandated price of about $70 each. He needed four more.

Through social media, he found a seller willing to part with four more vials for about five times that price. First, two arrived. When the second two were delivered, he noticed the packaging was different from the first batch. They had been made by different companies, the seller explained.

The Rathores had their doubts, but Sadhna’s oxygen levels were dropping and they were desperate. Mr. Rathore said they gave the doses to the doctors, who injected them without being able to determine whether they were real or fake. On May 3, Ms. Rathore died.

Mr. Rathore filed a police report and one of the sellers was arrested, he said, but he has been racked with guilt.

“I have the regret that probably my wife would have been saved if those injections were original,” he said, adding that the police had sent the vials to be tested.

“People are using the crisis period for their own benefit,” Mr. Rathore said. “This is a moral crisis.”

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At India’s Funeral Pyres, Covid Sunders the Rites of Grief

Mourners in protective gear, or watching from home. Long waits at the cremation grounds. The trauma of loss has become both lonely and public.


NEW DELHI — The lifeless are picked up from infected homes by exhausted volunteers, piled into ambulances by hospital workers or carried in the back of auto-rickshaws by grieving relatives.

At the cremation grounds, where the fires only briefly cool off late at night, relatives wait hours for their turn to say goodbye. The scenes are photographed, filmed, broadcast. They are beamed to relatives under lockdown across India. They are shown on news sites and newspapers around the world, putting India’s personal tragedies on display to a global audience.

Local residents record the fires from their roofs to show the world why they must wear masks even inside their homes. The smoke and smell of death is so constant, so thick, that it covers the narrow lanes for much of the day, seeping through shuttered windows.

The flames bear witness to the devastation wrought by India’s Covid-19 crisis. They show the losses in a country where the dead and infected are widely believed to be grossly undercounted. They stand as a rebuke to a government accused of mismanagement by many of its people.

oxygen.

Before the body of Darwan Singh arrived at Seemapuri — the token given to his family indicated that he was No. 41 in line — the family had done all they could to save the 56-year-old guesthouse guard.

His fever had persisted. His oxygen level had dropped to a dangerous 42 percent. For two days, the family could find him neither a hospital bed nor an oxygen cylinder. When they found one, said his nephew, Kuldeep Rawat, he received oxygen for one hour before the hospital ran out.

The family took Mr. Singh home for the night. The next day, they waited for five hours in the parking lot of another hospital. The family paid a bribe of about $70 to get his uncle a bed at a free government hospital, Mr. Rawat said. Mr. Singh died overnight.

With Seemapuri fully booked, the hospital couldn’t immediately hand over the body. On April 25, it was piled onto an ambulance with five others and taken there.

Mr. Rawat said he had to go inside the ambulance to identify his uncle, then move him inside the crematory, where they waited for five hours before his turn at the pyre. The cost: $25 for material needed for the final prayer, $34 for wood, $14 in fees for the pandit and $5 for the P.P.E. kit for family members.

Mr. Rawat said his uncle’s family — mother, wife, daughter, son — was infected. Relatives could not come to the house for mourning and offered their condolences by phone.

“And I am still in isolation,” Mr. Rawat said, fearing that he had been infected during the final rites.

For families living around the crematories, there is no escaping the constant reminder of death as they await what feels like their own inevitable infection.

In Sunlight Colony, a mix of shanty homes and apartments where some of the houses share a wall with Seemapuri, smoke is so constant that many are forced to wear masks inside. Children are given hot water to gargle before bedtime. Laundry is dried indoors.

“Our kitchen is upstairs — it’s unbearable in there,” said Waseem Qureishi, whose mother and six siblings live in a two-bedroom house still under construction next to Seemapuri. “If the wind’s direction is toward our home, it’s worse.”

Anuj Bhansal, an ambulance driver who lives near the Ghazipur crematory, also in eastern New Delhi, said he was worried about his four children, aged 7 to 12.

Mr. Bhansal said that as the cremations reached as many as 100 a day, the neighborhood’s children would run to a nearby garbage hill and watch.

“When they look at flames and smoke coming out of the cremation ground, they ask why it is not ending,” Mr. Bhansal said. “They can hardly understand what is going on.”

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India’s Vaccine Drive Slows as Coronavirus Cases Hit Records

With India preparing to make residents 18 and older eligible for a coronavirus vaccine starting Saturday, Dr. Aqsa Shaikh emailed the country’s largest drug manufacturer this week asking for doses for the vaccination center she runs in New Delhi.

The response was not encouraging: The company, the Serum Institute of India, said it was so overwhelmed by demand that it could take five or six months for Dr. Shaikh to get the 3,000 doses per month she requested.

“When I read that email, images of mass burials appeared in front of my eyes,” she said. “We may have to shut down the center now if the government doesn’t chip in.”

Mass vaccinations could be the only way for India to curb its outbreak. The health ministry on Thursday reported more than 375,000 cases and more than 3,600 deaths, and hospitals warned of critical shortages of ventilator beds, medical oxygen, medicines and other lifesaving supplies.

could be a significant undercount — its vaccination program was supposed to be a bright spot. Before the pandemic, India ran the world’s largest immunization program, delivering routine vaccinations to 55 million people a year. The Serum Institute aimed to become the vaccine manufacturer for the world, pumping out tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine at its factories in the western city of Pune.

But after an initial fast rollout, averaging some three million injections a day, India’s vaccination drive is slowing. The health ministry said on Thursday that it had administered fewer than 2.2 million doses in the last 24 hours.

About 26 million people have been fully vaccinated, or 2 percent of the population, making it unlikely that India will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of vaccinating 300 million people by the summer.

Despite cash infusions from Mr. Modi’s government, India’s major vaccine companies are struggling to increase production. The Serum Institute is producing about 60 million doses a month, and another Indian company, Bharat Biotech, is making about 10 million doses a month of its Covaxin shot. A third company has signed an agreement to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine later this year.

what India needs to inoculate every adult, some 940 million people. Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, an epidemiologist, tweeted: “It is like inviting 100 people at your home for lunch. You have resources to cook for 20.”

Already, hospitals say they are running out of vaccines. Many Indians who have received one shot say they are having trouble getting a second.

“You feel like you are being cheated,” said Aditya Kapoor, a New Delhi businessman who said he was turned away from two clinics when he went to get his second dose.

An online portal the government launched on Wednesday to register for shots crashed because of the demand; more than 13 million Indians eventually got appointments.

“We don’t know what to do from Saturday; the shortage is everywhere,” said Balbir Singh Sidhu, the health minister in Punjab State, which is struggling to obtain the three million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that it ordered.

The Indian health ministry denied there was a supply shortage and said that it had tried to speed up the rollout by allowing private facilities to purchase directly from manufacturers. But critics say the policy could lead to companies raising prices for private buyers.

In New Delhi, at the vaccination center at Jamia Hamdard, a medical college, Dr. Sheikh said that she would soon be unable to offer even the 150 doses she administers in an average day.

“Just thinking about not being able to help at our vaccination center makes me cry,” she added.

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‘This Is a Catastrophe.’ In India, Illness Is Everywhere.

NEW DELHI — Crematories are so full of bodies, it’s as if a war just happened. Fires burn around the clock. Many places are holding mass cremations, dozens at a time, and at night, in certain areas of New Delhi, the sky glows.

Sickness and death are everywhere.

Dozens of houses in my neighborhood have sick people.

One of my colleagues is sick.

One of my son’s teachers is sick.

The neighbor two doors down, to the right of us: sick.

Two doors to the left: sick.

“I have no idea how I got it,” said a good friend who is now in the hospital. “You catch just a whiff of this…..” and then his voice trailed off, too sick to finish.

a vast underestimation.

New Delhi, India’s sprawling capital of 20 million, is suffering a calamitous surge. A few days ago, the positivity rate hit a staggering 36 percent — meaning more than one out of three people tested were infected. A month ago, it was less than 3 percent.

The infections have spread so fast that hospitals have been completely swamped. People are turned away by the thousands. Medicine is running out. So is lifesaving oxygen. The sick have been left stranded in interminable lines at hospital gates or at home, literally gasping for air.

been kidnapped in Iraq and been thrown in jail in more than a few places.

This is unsettling in a different way. There’s no way of knowing if my two kids, wife or I will be among those who get a mild case and then bounce back to good health, or if we will get really sick. And if we do get really sick, where will we go? ICUs are full. Gates to many hospitals have been closed.

A new variant known here as “the double mutant” may be doing a lot of the damage. The science is still early but from what we know, this variant contains one mutation that may make the virus more contagious and another that may make it partially resistant to vaccines. Doctors are pretty scared. Some we have spoken to said they had been vaccinated twice and still got seriously ill, a very bad sign.

So what can you do?

I try to stay positive, believing that is one of the best immunity boosters, but I find myself drifting in a daze through the rooms of our apartment, listlessly opening cans of food and making meals for my kids, feeling like my mind and body are turning to mush. I’m afraid to check my phone and get another message about a friend who has deteriorated. Or worse. I’m sure millions of people have felt this way, but I’ve started imagining symptoms: Is my throat sore? What about that background headache? Is it worse today?

My part of town, South Delhi, is now hushed. Like many other places, we had a strict lockdown last year. But now doctors here are warning us that the virus is more contagious, and the chances of getting help are so much worse than they were during the first wave. So many of us are scared to step outside, like there’s some toxic gas we’re all afraid to breathe.

India is a story of scale, and it cuts both ways. It has a lot of people, a lot of needs and a lot of suffering. But it also has lot of technology, industrial capacity and resources, both human and material. I almost teared up the other night when the news showed an Indian Air Force jet load up with oxygen tanks from Singapore to bring to needy parts of the country. The government was essentially airlifting air.

However difficult and dangerous it feels in Delhi for all of us, it’s probably going to get worse. Epidemiologists say the numbers will keep climbing, to 500,000 reported cases a day nationwide and as many as one million Indians dead from Covid-19 by August.

It didn’t have to be like this.

India was doing well up until a few weeks ago, at least on the surface. It locked down, absorbed the first wave, then opened up. It maintained a low death rate (at least by official statistics). By winter, life in many respects had returned to something near normal.

I was out reporting in January and February, driving through towns in central India. No one — and I mean no one, including police officers — was wearing a mask. It was like the country had said to itself, while the second wave was looming: Don’t worry, we got this.

Few people feel that way now.

Mr. Modi remains popular among his base but more people are blaming him for failing to prepare India for this surge and for holding packed political rallies in recent weeks where few precautions were enforced — possible super-spreader events.

“Social distancing norms have gone for a complete toss,” said one Delhi newscaster the other day, during a broadcast of one of Mr. Modi’s rallies.

In India, as elsewhere, the wealthy can pad the blow of many crises. But this time it’s different.

A well-connected friend activated his entire network to help someone close to him, a young man with a bad case of Covid. My friend’s friend died. No amount of pull could get him into a hospital. There were just too many other sick people.

“I tried everything in my power to get this guy a bed, and we couldn’t,” my friend said. “It’s chaos.”

His feelings were raw.

“This is a catastrophe. This is murder.”

I take few risks except to get food for my family that can’t be delivered. I wear two masks and cut wide berths around as many people as I can.

But most days pass with the four of us marooned inside. We try to play games, we try not to talk about who just got sick or who’s racing around this besieged city looking for help they probably won’t find.

Sometimes we just sit quietly in the living room, looking out at the ficus and palm trees.

Through the open window, on long, still, hot afternoons, we can hear two things: Ambulances. And birdsong.

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The World Needs Syringes. He Jumped In to Make 5,900 Per Minute.

BALLABGARH, India — In late November, an urgent email popped up in the inbox of Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices, one of the world’s largest syringe makers.

It was from UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, and it was desperately seeking syringes. Not just any would do. These syringes must be smaller than usual. They had to break if used a second time, to prevent spreading disease through accidental recycling.

Most important, UNICEF needed them in vast quantities. Now.

“I thought, ‘No issues,’” said Rajiv Nath, the company’s managing director, who has sunk millions of dollars into preparing his syringe factories for the vaccination onslaught. “We could deliver it possibly faster than anybody else.”

As countries jostle to secure enough vaccine doses to put an end to the Covid-19 outbreak, a second scramble is unfolding for syringes. Vaccines aren’t all that useful if health care professionals lack a way to inject them into people.

will spend $1.2 billion over four years to expand capacity in part to deal with pandemics.

The United States is the world’s largest syringe supplier by sales, according to Fitch Solutions, a research firm. The United States and China are neck and neck in exports, with combined annual shipments worth $1.7 billion. While India is a small player globally, with only $32 million in exports in 2019, Mr. Nath of Hindustan Syringes sees a big opportunity.

Each of his syringes sells for only three cents, but his total investment is considerable. He invested nearly $15 million to mass-produce specialty syringes, equal to roughly one-sixth of his annual sales, before purchase orders were even in sight. In May, he ordered new molds from suppliers in Italy, Germany and Japan to make a variety of barrels and plungers for his syringes.

cleared Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use, Robert Matthews, a UNICEF contract manager in Copenhagen, and his team needed to find a manufacturer that could produce millions of syringes.

“We went, ‘Oh, dear!’” said Mr. Matthews, as they looked for a syringe that would meet W.H.O. specifications and was compact for shipping. Hindustan Syringes’ product, he said, was the first.

The company is set to begin shipping 3.2 million of those syringes soon, UNICEF said, provided they clear another quality check.

Mr. Nath has sold 15 million syringes to the Japanese government, he said, and over 400 million to India for its Covid-19 inoculation drive, one of the largest in the world. More are in line, including UNICEF, for which he has offered to produce about 240 million more, and Brazil, he said.

Marc Koska, a British inventor of safety injections, and its ability to produce all of the components in-house. Hindustan Syringes makes its needles from stainless steel strips imported from Japan. The strips are curled into cylinders and welded at the seam, then stretched and cut into fine capillary tubes, which machines glue to plastic hubs. To make the jabs less painful, they are dipped in a silicone solution.

The syringe business is a “bloodsucker,” Mr. Nath said, where upfront costs are astronomical and profits marginal. If demand for his syringes drop by even half in the next few years, he will lose almost all of the $15 million he invested.

It’s clearly a frugal operation. The blue carpet in Mr. Nath’s office looks just as old as his desk or the glass chandelier by the stairs, fixtures his father put in place in 1984, before he handed over the company to Mr. Nath and his family.

A family business is exactly how he likes it. No shareholders, no interference, no worries. In 1995, when Mr. Nath needed money to increase production and buy lots of new machines, he sought private capital for the first time. Had that been the case today, he said, he wouldn’t be able to follow his gut and produce his syringes at this enormous scale.

“You have a good night’s sleep,” Mr. Nath said. “It’s better to be a big fish in a small pond.”

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