India now has 28 confirmed cases of coronavirus. In recent months, the relationship between the Centre and the states has seen a complete breakdown over issues such as GST, Ayushman Bharat, CAA, NRC and NPR.
ThePrint asks: With centre-state political standoff, can coronavirus outbreak be effectively fought?
Given past record of state-Centre harmony, we can hope politics won’t come in way of coronavirus response
Advocate, Supreme Court & National Spokesperson, BJP
The constitutional scheme in India envisages a healthy working relationship between the Centre and the states. Certain subjects fall exclusively in the domain of the Centre under the Union List. Then there are subjects such as health that are enumerated in the State list.
Any subject in the Union List on which a law is passed by Parliament, such a law is required to be implemented by the states. Likewise, any law passed by the state has to be implemented within that state. The only exception is if the High Court concerned or the Supreme Court directs otherwise vide an order or judgement.
Currently, there is a trend among states to pass resolutions against implementing the CAA. This is clearly against the constitutional scheme because the CAA has been passed by Parliament on the subject of citizenship, which is part of the Union List. The stand taken by such states against the CAA needs to be viewed as a result of political opposition rather than constitutional propriety.
One expects that on matters of national importance, such as the coronavirus situation, politics would not come in the way of a suitable and coordinated response between the parties concerned — the health ministry and the state governments.
Centre should declare its support to all states and not make coronavirus outbreak a partisan issue
Chairman, Centre for Multilevel Federalism
Centre-state relations have been under severe stress in the last few months, ever since the consensus on cooperative federalism broke down in the GST Council and some states started passing resolutions against the CAA and the NRC. Some have even moved the Supreme Court to challenge a law that they say infringes the fundamental rights of their people.
The breakdown of dialogue between the Centre and the states, therefore, leads to the fear that when cooperation is really needed to ward off a collective danger, it may not be forthcoming. This is the case of the current threat posed by coronavirus, which threatens to spread across states. A virus does not recognise national boundaries, much less state boundaries.
Cooperation between the Centre and the states fortunately continues at the official level in functional areas, and health is one such area where states have never withheld their cooperation. COVID-19 is potentially a national health disaster, and the states would expect help and assistance from the Centre in tackling this threat.
Testing facilities are unevenly distributed across states. The Centre should declare that it would extend all support, including financial, to all states and not make the coronavirus outbreak a partisan issue by excluding specific states or communities.
Inter-state epidemic control is one area where there’s no politicisation. Everything is done professionally
Former secretary, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare
The question of any disharmony in tackling coronavirus as compared to what may be happening in other spheres, simply does not arise.
There is absolutely no way coronavirus can be contained if the states do not work in tandem and in complete harmony with the central government. Currently, I don’t think that anyone is trying to minimise their responsibility. When an epidemic breaks out, everyone looks up to the central government to guide them with the steps that are required to be taken to prevent, control and contain the spread of the disease.
This is a matter of life and death — no citizen is going to appreciate the politicisation of the coronavirus outbreak.
From my experience of handling epidemics during my tenure with the health ministry, inter-state epidemic control is one area where there is no politicisation and everything is done professionally.
India is well-organised at a national level when it comes to handling public health crises. During Epidemics, the need for a professional response surmounts other considerations, which includes politics.
The hierarchical system of health secretary, the Director General Health services, chief medical officers in the districts, block-level medical officers and health personnel at the taluka and sub-centre levels is quite remarkable.
India managed to contain the spread of HIV only because we have a system in place for public health crisis management—better than what many countries have.
Centre-state standoff in West Bengal will impact fight against coronavirus
Senior journalist and political analyst
Yes, the political standoff will create problems, especially in states like West Bengal where the state government and the Centre don’t see each other eye to eye on many issues. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been repeatedly saying that the hue and cry around coronavirus is nothing but the BJP’s ploy to deflect people’s attention from the Delhi riots.
While the Delhi riots were still on, Mamata had a meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah in Bhubaneswar but did not utter a word on the situation in the national capital. After facing criticism for maintaining silence on Delhi riots, she has now attacked the Centre on the issue.
The northernmost part of the West Bengal border touches Nepal and a number of people travel through that corridor on a regular basis. The Chinese frequently visit Nepal. But the West Bengal government has not alerted the administration, which should be more vigilant in that corridor.
While the Kolkata airport has introduced a system to body scan travellers coming from countries that have reported coronavirus cases, Mamata has said that her government will deal with coronavirus as and when it comes in the state. But Trinamool MP Kakoli Ghosh has said that she feels that the government should be ready to make the changes on an urgent basis now.
By Unnati Sharma, journalist at ThePrint
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