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The virus attack on federalism


"Hon’ble Prime Minister you know this, you have been a Chief Minister of a state yourself. All states must get their due respect".  These were words from West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee at the video conference of chief ministers summoned by the prime minister on Monday.   Mamata's strong words came when she mentioned central home minister Amit Shah writing a letter to her  and his leaking of the content of that letter to the media.  She had raised a similar issue on 20 April when she opposed the Centre's decision to send a ministerial delegation to assess the preventive measures against Covid in different districts of Bengal.  On that occasion,  she charged that the step was an encroachment on the rights of the state,  and lost no time to declare that the state would not co-operate with the team.

If the Centre's measuers since the spread of Covid pandemic started one by one is put in perspective,  one can see numerous instances of crucial flaws and loss of direction.  It started with the prime minister's television appearance and the very declaration of the first lockdown all of a sudden.   That announcement,  with no notice worth the name and without any of the essential preparatory measures,  gave a jolt to the lives of the common man and inter-state migrant labourers – creating a situation which only led to defeating the very purpose of lockdown.  And that is the reason why the lockdown,  which was enforced at a great loss to the economic-production sector,  went without wholesome result.   As a matter of fact,  when it comes to the actual steps of Covid prevention,  the Centre has only been able to toe the path of the states.  The Centre has not been able to make any new advances in the matter of ideas or of medical research – the only exception being the exploration whether Ganga water would be suitable for Covid treatment! And that was promptly dismissed by ICMR too.

The Constitution of India classifies public health and sanitation under the state list.  Naturally,  activities related to Covid prevention should come under the jurisdiction of the states.  In its turn,  the Centre should give the necessary support and make the required co-ordination among different states.  It has also to give the lead for effective research and development efforts in the health sector at the national level.  But the Centre fails to do what it should do and interferes in the actions of the states.  That was how a situation emerged in which even items of detail like the colour-coded zoning of different districts,  came to done by the Centre.  At the same time,  the central government made critical lapses in areas which it should have acted, such as the resolution of the impasse of inter-state labourers.

The announcement of introducing train services from Delhi to different states was made without any consultation with the states concerned.   Paradoxically,  it is during the spread of the pandemic in Delhi that people are being sent from there to the states by airconditioned coaches.  And by now,  widespread criticism has already been aired that in an operation that disrupts the entire preventive mechanisms of the states,  even the lists of passengers were not transferred to the states.

It is undeniable that there is a glaring laxity and lack of direction on the part of the Centre in regard to Covid prevention.  All the same, when it comes to overstepping into the jurisdiction of the states, it has a clear sense of direction.   They may be under the notion that when the country and people are totally engrossed in Covid preventive drives,  this may not be noted or become a point of debate.  But it is relieving that those like Mamata Banerjee are seeing into this motive and offering stout defence.  In fact,  every one should keep vigil not to let the virus of centralisation of power extend its sinews into the country's constitution under the cover of Covid.

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