1. Is India’s federal polity coping well with the threats of COVID-19? Critically comment.
क्या COVID-19 के खतरों से भारत की संघीय राजनीति अच्छी तरह से जूझ रही है? समालोचनात्मक टिप्पणी करें।
Demand of the question:
It expects students to write about the response of states and centre to the threats of COVID-19 and critical analysis of the challenges posed by India’s federal polity in a response to the threats of COVID-19.
Responsiveness of government becomes evident in the manner in which it addresses the crucial task of ameliorating suffering and reducing losses. India’s handling of the present COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted significant challenges due to federal polity of India.
Indian response to pandemic of COVID-19 exemplified flexible nature of Indian federalism coming handy in a crisis.
- In a first, several Indian states announced lockdown and sealed their borders announced even before the Central government took any decision on lockdown.
- States have shown effective response in on ground management of administrative machinery and fiscal preparedness despite of significant loss of revenue.
- Both laws of Epidemic Disease act 1897 and National Disaster Management act of 2005 provides broad legal architecture to take a variety of emergency measures to contain the pandemic. It allows both the central and state governments to regulate the spread of epidemic diseases. While the Centre can take preventive emergency measures to control epidemic diseases at ports of entry and exit, states are constitutionally empowered to adopt preventive administrative and regulatory measures to check the epidemic.
- Inter-state cooperation and coordination played important role in managing crisis of migrant exodus. Cooperation through health expertise witnessed in Kerala’s gesture to send 50 specialist doctors and 100 nurses to Maharashtra which has been worst hit by pandemic.
- Central government is getting actively involved in containment measures of national capital and recent cooperation between Delhi government and central government goes beyond petty politics.
However, autonomy of states and the imperative of federal division of powers under constitutional obligations did not empower the center with authority or leverage to enforce compliance in emergency situations like pandemic.
Challenges posed by federal polity to containment of COVID-19:
- Political bickering: Many states expressed dissatisfaction over extension of nationwide lockdown without consulting states in response to threat posed by COVID-19. However formulation of nationwide policy to deal with disaster remains domain of central government.
- Lack of preparation by many states: In the response stage, it consisted of emergency plans which included emergency support functions of procurement, hospital infrastructure, search and rescue teams, and communication networks. E.g. many states lie below the national level figure of 0.55 beds per 1000 population; these include Bihar, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Assam and Manipur.
- Overlapping Authority: Health is state subject, however, prevention of the extension from one State to another of infectious or contagious diseases or pests affecting men, animals or plants come under concurrent list.
- Siloed Approach: Country’s existing healthcare apparatus is highly regimented, with separate institutions in-charge of primary, secondary, and tertiary health care. Such a siloed approach is a serious impediment to the country’s efforts at tackling any epidemic such as the current COVID-19. The imperative is for the formulation of a seamless approach.
- Information asymmetry: Despite the governmental assurances and policy declarations, the vulnerability of migrant workers is unlikely to be taken care of due to the ensuing lack of communication and absence of information sharing between the Centre and the migrants sending and receiving States. Such lack of coordination is posing health as well as socio-economic insecurity for these millions of returnee migrants in their native States.
- Sub-national response: As the lockdown demanded the closing of the inter-State borders, the crisis has witnessed the rise of the salience of sub-national identities in many states. Such rise of the regional identities might spell an imminent crisis in the inter-State relations in the near future. Such a tussle can disrupt the response to threats of COVID-19.
However, for a large federal country of a mind-boggling diversity, India’s ability to fight Covid-19 pandemic largely rests on how well it manages its Centre-state relation. When compared with other large federal countries such as the US, the country has done very well to minimize the frictions and provide a sense of direction to the states.
The pandemic and the prolonged lockdown have given rise to unprecedented policy challenges that warrants systematic and sincere cooperation and coordination both between Centre and the States as well as amongst the States. In this regard, the existing institutional mechanisms like Inter-State Council which has remained largely moribund can be rejuvenated during this crisis.
Along with the state specific responses to the pandemic of COVID-19, there is need of national plan with coordinated efforts. Uniformity in decision making and measures to be adopted is critical in opening economy.