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Is Centre interfering in Covid fight or do states like West Bengal, Kerala need hand-holding?

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has called the Narendra Modi gov’s decision to send teams to assess Covid-19 situation in four states as a "unilateral" and "undesirable" action.

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West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has called the Narendra Modi government’s decision to send teams to assess the Covid-19 situation in four states as a “unilateral” and “undesirable” action. The Centre has identified certain districts in four states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh for visits by the inter-ministerial teams, which can issue necessary directions for strict compliance of the lockdown.

ThePrint asks: Is Centre interfering in Covid fight or do states like West Bengal, Kerala need hand-holding?

Centre’s decision to airdrop ministerial teams in four states to check lockdown violations is not unlawful

Rahul Verma
Fellow, Centre for Policy Research

While announcing the lockdown on 24 March, the central government invoked the Disaster Management Act, 2005 that allows it to steer any operation nationally and issue binding guidelines and directives to the states and Union territories, even though the subject under consideration may lie in the purview of states.

Therefore, the Centre’s decision to airdrop ministerial teams in four states to check lockdown violations is not unlawful. For instance, it sent a team to Kerala in March 2019 after learning of a 7-year-old boy who reportedly tested positive for the West Nile virus.

That said, the federalism framework rests on trust and coordination between Centre and states. The objection of the states to the Centre’s sending of monitoring teams as intervention is not unjustified. The central government should have spoken to the chief ministers of West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan before sending the teams to these states. Why were teams sent to only these four states? Was it because these states had concerning hotspots, the high number of Covid-19 cases, or some startling reports from these areas grabbed attention? The Centre has only cited lockdown violations as an observation.

According to West Bengal chief secretary Rajiva Sinha, the central team landed in the state within 15 minutes of informing, which points to a lack of consent from the states. It defeats the purpose of the Covid-19 fight that requires all stakeholders to be taken into confidence and join the decision-making process. Prime Minister Narendra Modi must ensure that the fight against Covid-19 is not reduced to a game of one-upmanship.

Centre not interfering, it wants to bring all states on the same page in fight against Covid

Rajat Roy
Senior journalist and political analyst

The Modi government’s involvement does not amount to interfering in states’ affairs. Rather it should be seen as an attempt to bring all the states on one page in the country’s fight against Covid-19. In West Bengal, even during the lockdown, people were seen frequenting the markets uninhibitedly and despite repeated warnings issued by the Centre, things were showing little signs of improvement.

The central government sent a letter to the state government pointing out the incidents of violation of lockdown in the state. It was followed by another letter to the chief secretary and DGP of West Bengal by ministry of home affairs’ Internal Security Division, wherein it was observed that the incidents of violation of lockdown are on the rise and the relaxation on shops selling non-essentials, like sweet, by the state administration is compounding the problem.

The Centre also objected to the distribution of ration to people “not through institutional delivery system” but by political leaders and observed “that (it) may have resulted in spread of Covid-19 infection”.

Distribution of ration by political leaders like Trinamool’s Abhisek Banerjee and others are in the news. The ration dealers are protesting against the political leaders for compelling them to release food grains for distribution, resulting in a disruption of the PDS. The Centre had asked the state government to file a compliance report. One can’t say that the Centre did not give prior notice to the state about the growing violations.

The Narendra Modi government should take states into confidence by ensuring proper consultation

M. B. Rajesh
Former MP from Palakkad constituency, Kerala

The Covid-19 threat has to be fought unitedly by the Centre and the states. The Narendra Modi government should take states into confidence by ensuring proper consultation, coordination, support and assistance and the states should know that they are bound by the former’s guidelines and directives. In short, adhering to the spirit of federal principles is the backbone of India’s fight against Covid-19. Though this is not an apolitical fight, petty political differences should not come in the way of tackling this pandemic.

However, since states are at the forefront of this challenge and health being a state subject, the Centre must provide them adequate finances and resources. State finances were already under stress during the economic slowdown. Now, Covid-19 has deprived them of revenues and the Centre is yet to clear its dues to states with regard to GST and MNREGS. It is also yet to respond to the states’ demand to raise their borrowing limits from the current 3 per cent to 4 per cent of the states’ GDP.

The Chief Minister Disaster Relief Fund (CMDRF) of the states should have been given the same consideration as PM CARES funds, as far as CSR contributions are concerned. Kerala, for example, is home to 68 per cent of the total relief camps for migrant labourers in the country but it received just a small sum from the SDRF allocation to states.

Centre has chosen to assert authority by micro-managing states during the Covid-19 crisis

Balveer Arora
Chairman, Centre for Multilevel Federalism

The handling of centre-state relations during the pandemic poses an exceptional challenge for the Narendra Modi government and a test of its leadership capabilities. It has used the little-known Disaster Management Act to assume powers to handle the health emergency.

It was clear that the states were the frontline for this combat against Covid-19 to the extent that Prime Minister Modi was obliged to consult chief ministers through video conferencing thrice within a short span of time — something that had been missing during the last six years on other issues.

Now, the question arose as to the fine-tuning of the deconfinement, and here there was a challenge for the Centre. It could not be seen as being led by the states. It had to assert its authority and has chosen to do that regrettably by a micro-management strategy.

It has even been dictating to states as to what they should consider as essential commodities. Kerala, a highly literate state, deemed it proper to include books in the essential commodities while West Bengal, known for its sweet tooth, chose to include sweet shops in its list. The Centre has been reasserting its authority in trying to curtail flexibility and the capability of the states to understand best what response is required under local conditions. Particularly since these states have demonstrated exemplary handling of the medical crisis.

Also read: Does India need more Covid-19 testing or is it an uninformed argument?

By Pia Krishnankutty, journalist at ThePrint

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  1. Central government no doubt interfering in handling the Covid19 problems, On what grounds the teams visiting the states WB, Rajasthan, MH & Mp. According Mamata Didi central has not consulted them , on what grounds they’re going check & advice the state. Today I herd today the governor WB interviewed by NDTV. Straight way he is accusing the state of WB. The Governor of MH already SP raised complaint against him as he has created another Satta kendra . Where’s MP is not paid attention due.

  2. In the United States, many citizens rate the work being done by their Governors more highly than the response so far of the Trump administration. On as important an issue as when they should get back to work, they would rather go with the considered judgment of the state governments. In India, the state government – in the metros, the municipal corporation – delivers a much wider range of services than somewhat remote Delhi. By and large, the state governments are rising to the challenge of Covid 19. If one may say this without sounding partisan, the CMs winning the most applause are from the Opposition space, led by Kerala. Cooperative federalism does not have a track record to write home about. At this difficult hour, what Delhi needs to do above all is to offer midair refuelling. Release arrears of funds due to the states for GST, supplement that with whatever is possible at a time when its own finances are overstretched. Sending officious teams – surprisingly at a time when all aircraft are grounded – to check out how – almost entirely opposition state governments – are performing may not be the best way to create national synergies.

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