Tuesday, March 28, 2023
HomeIndiaStates blame Modi govt's 'unilateral decisions' for chaos at airports as flights...

States blame Modi govt’s ‘unilateral decisions’ for chaos at airports as flights resume

State govt officials say they were taken by surprise when the Centre on 21 May announced that domestic passenger commercial air services will resume from 25 May.

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New Delhi: The chaos that marked the resumption of domestic air services Monday after over two months at airports of major cities, including Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, has once again brought to the fore how the central and state governments have been at loggerheads on different issues related to Covid-19 management.

Senior government officials in several states ThePrint spoke to said not only did the Centre not take their views before deciding to resume domestic flight operations from 25 May, but what further added to the confusion was different central government agencies were speaking in different voices.

State government officials said they were taken by surprise when the Centre on 21 May announced that domestic passenger air services will resume from 25 May.

“This, when on 17 May, the Centre’s guidelines for the fourth phase of the lockdown clearly barred air operations until 31 May. The Centre is well within its right to go back on it’s earlier decision. But the least they could have done is discussed with the states to check their preparedness,” said a chief secretary of a north Indian state.

The official added at the end of the day, it’s the respective state governments that will have to arrange the logistics — be it readying the transport infrastructure to carry the passengers to and from the airport to their homes or ensuring that airports have all the protocol in place to handle the influx of passengers.

“It’s the states that have to be ready on the ground,” the official added.

That states were not taken on board was evident as soon after the announcement, states including Maharashtra, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, flagged their reservation over resumption of flight operation.

Until Sunday evening, Maharashtra was against resumption of flight operation in Mumbai airport because of the continued spike in Covid-19 cases. It was only late at night that they agreed to allow only 25 flights to land and 25 to take off from Mumbai airport.

Also read: States must be ready to resume passenger flights, not upto Centre alone: Hardeep Singh Puri

Centre took ‘unilateral decisions’ in most cases

Officials in several states pointed out this is not a one-off case.

Right from giving states just four-hour notice to prepare when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown from 25 March to categorising which districts will be put under containment zones, officials said the Centre had mostly taken “unilateral decisions” since the beginning of lockdown.

“Not only do states regularly share their inputs with the Centre but in the various video conference meetings held by the Prime Minister as well as cabinet secretary in the last two months, we have shared our concerns and asked to be allowed to decide on issues like categorisation of zones and what all activities to allow during lockdown,” another chief secretary of a state said.

“While the Centre consulted, listened, many of our inputs were not taken,” he said.

The migrant crisis that unfolded following the lockdown is an example, an official who is part of the Covid taskforce in a north Indian state, said on condition of anonymity.

“Had the Centre taken the states’ inputs on this, the issue could have been handled in a far better and humane way. Some states had written to the Centre to allow trains to transport migrant workers to their home states after the lockdown was announced. But the Centre, decided to act on it much later. By that time, migrants had already started walking home on foot,” the official said.

Different central agencies speaking in different voices

A senior government official in one of the southern states said that first, the civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri Saturday said if passengers are asymptomatic and given the all-clear by Aarogya Setu app, states need not quarantine incoming passengers.

Then Sunday, the health ministry issued fresh guidelines, which among other do’s and don’ts said that states are free to bring their own guidelines.

“This resulted in several states framing their own protocols for incoming passengers, adding to the chaos,” the official said.

For instance, Karnataka has made a 7-day institutional quarantine followed by a 7-day home-quarantine mandatory for passengers flying from states with a high number of cases like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, etc.

Passengers flying to Maharashtra will have their hand-stamped with mandatory 14-day home-isolation. Himachal Pradesh will allow only those passengers who are residents of the state. Non-residents will be put in institutional quarantine immediately after landing and then sent back.

Officials at the Centre, however, refuted the state governments’ allegations.

A secretary-level officer, who is part of an empowered committee set up by the Centre to strategise the government’s Covid response, said officials were regularly taking inputs from the states before formulating any policy.

“Besides the cabinet secretary’s meeting with chief secretaries and the PM’s meeting with CMs, senior central government officials were regularly in touch with the states to discuss their concerns. The decision to allow home-quarantine was taken following states’ input,” the official, who did not want to be named, said.

Citing another instance, the official said, the decision to allow smooth movement of trucks carrying essential and non-essential goods was taken after the states flagged the issue.

Also read: With centre-state political standoff, can coronavirus outbreak be effectively fought?


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