It’s time to genuinely adopt ‘cooperative federalism’

| Updated on April 02, 2020

India should pool together best practices of States, developing its own model to combat Covid-19

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s consultation with Chief Ministers of different States on Covid-19 was a much-needed step that the Centre could, however, have taken much earlier to devise a common strategy to combat the contagion. Indeed, a more consultative and community-based strategy is vastly more preferable to a unilateral, top-down approach reflected in the abrupt announcement of a lockdown. Vast numbers felt compelled to violate the lockdown because of the sudden loss of livelihood, shelter and panic that ensued. This could perhaps have been avoided if the States and Centre had worked out the logistics of the lockdown together.

In contrast to the chaos of the last few days, it would seem that Germany and South Korea have followed best practices. The infection there has been contained through a ‘trace, test and treat’ strategy, a point highlighted by the PM in his discussion on Thursday with the CMs. But given the rapid spread of the virus and the vast lacunae in India’s public healthcare infrastructure, the need of the hour is to follow indigenous and proven models, based on the successful practices that have already been put in place by States. With 3 per cent of India’s population, Kerala has carried out nearly 7,000 tests as compared to, say, UP that accounts for nearly 17 per cent of India’s population and has tested 2,824 samples. The southern State has earned respect internationally for planning ahead (before the lockdown) — setting up over 4,600 camps for the migrant workers, training Asha and Kudumbashree workers at the panchayat level to track instances of anyone having done international travel, preparing virtual route maps of the infected people and the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan addressing a press conference everyday to give details of new cases and minute updates on the spread of the disease. Even in Rajasthan, where panic spread when six doctors and medical staff of a private hospital in Bhilwara tested positive for Covid-19 on March 19, the State has taken steps to contain the spread. It locked down Bhilwara town on March 20 and started screening and isolating suspected cases. The district administration put over 6,000 people in home quarantine and took over five private hospitals, created isolation centres out of resorts and hotels and conducted a house-to-house survey. The district now has isolation facilities for 15,000 people.

Yet, even within the States, it is imperative for CMs to rise above partisan concerns and address the emerging situation. The decision of the Karnataka government to challenge the Kerala High Court order to unseal the Karnataka-Kerala border for movement of patients with medical emergencies and essential goods is regrettable in this context. For a national strategy against Covid-19, best experiences from the States and their practices will need to be collated and extrapolated — in the true spirit of ‘cooperative federalism’.

Published on April 02, 2020

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