As Covid 19 pandemic is gripping the whole country, we are going through a phase where the question, 'What is the central government is doing?', is gaining more relevance. The Prime Minister, who was amply vocal on fighting the pandemic in its initial phase, is relatively silent on the issue now. There are no specific instructions or initiave from the Centre to overcome this crucial crisis. The Prime Minister had reiterated that the country is being a model for the world. However, the spread of, and death due to the disease, have doubled or quadrupled that of lockdown days. India has climbed to third among the world countries following US and Brazil in terms of the infected and death. 49,310 people were infected and 740 died on Friday.
As we write this now, India has 13,12,551 infected persons officially declared infected with the Coronavirus. These data should be understood in the wake of the glaring truth that many cases of infection in the remote areas of Uttar Pradesh and other North Indian states are unaccounted. Community spread has become a reality in even states like Kerala where effective and scientific methods are adopted to fight the disease. The metropolitan cities of the country have come to a standstill in the grip of Covid. The resonating question is whether the Central Government is capable of grasping and addressing the grave situation.
This is not to say that the Central Government has a role in the spread. The pandemic is debilitating the whole world. However, the question what concrete initiative had come from the Central Government as a responsible authority in fighting the disease is significant. The Prime Minister had announced Janata curfew and then complete lockdown without any preparation, while the states were moving to partial or complete lockdown. The setback of the impromptu lockdown on rural India is yet to be estimated. The Prime Minister had declared the lockdown requiring the people to stay wherever they were then. However the announcement resulted in an unprecedented, painful mass migration across the country. The migrant labourers and their families hit the streets in thousands with their belongings to get to their homeland. The Prime Minister was in fact setting a model of how the worst kind of lockdown could be enforced. And then came the theatrical calls to strike with vessels and to switch off lights.
It was after much clamour that the central government announced a stimulus package to revive the economy which got stagnant during the lockdown. The union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the Rs 20 lakh crore package over four days. However financial experts point that the package is worth just three to five and a half lakh crores for its new elements. The Union Minister was adding up all schemes including those already announced in the annual budget. One of the notable schemes of the stimulus package was the allotment of Rs 40,000 crore to the employment guarantee scheme.
This means the channels of money reaching the people are now closed. Although in theory there no lockdown is in place, in effect life has been locked out, which is the reason for reports about mass hunger coming from various states. In such a highly critical point, t hre has not been any guideline for relief from the Centre. The prime minister is in silence. The central health minister is nowhere to be seen in the picture. As for ICMR, it is weeks since they called a press meet. Clearly a time to ask aloud what the Centre is doing.
It is the state governments who co-ordinate the Covid prevention endeavour. But they need funds for this, which the Centre is not prepared to provide in sufficient measure. The states were authorised to borrow upto three percent of GDP. The only action in this regard taken by the Centre is that this three per cent was raised to five per cent. In other words, in order for states to secure funds for preventive steps against Covid, they have to borrow. Although this may offer temporary relief to states, by the time Covid is over, the states will fall into huge debts.
What the Centre should have done is to financially strengthen states to defend against the virus. But what is happening is the contrary. There has been serious laxity even in the matter of providing states with preventive equipment against Covid. More than the tautology in TV talks about India creating a model, the Centre has to pay attention to adopting effective preventive strategy and to empower states for that. Or else, we will totter without the resilience to overcome these hard times.