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Lockdown & After: BRUTAL RECESSIONARY PHASE, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 15 April 2020 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 15 April, 2020

Lockdown & After

BRUTAL RECESSIONARY PHASE

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 

The combination of continued lockdown and slowdown since the third quarter of the previous fiscal is going to hit the country harder like nothing it has faced in the past three decades. Other than the Centre, States such as Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala, West Bengal, Telangana and Odisha, who favoured extension of lockdown, will need to prepare a blue print and refine it as time goes by to tide over the crisis.

 

The IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva recently observed at a joint news conference with WHO chief that as the global economy has come to a virtual standstill because of the pandemic, the world is now into a recession that will be ‘way worse’ than the global financial crisis. Obviously, India would be greatly affected as flow of funds from the western world would be slower in the coming months. Some economists are of the opinion that such recessionary phase may continue beyond June but that would be disastrous for the economy.  

 

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings slashed India’s growth forecast for the current fiscal to a 30-year low of 2 per cent from 5.1 per cent projected earlier, while Moody’s also cut India’s growth forecast for calendar 2020 to 2.5 per cent, obviously due to economic recession gripping the global economy following the pandemic. Goldman Sachs estimated just 1.6 per cent growth, mainly due to the pandemic outbreak. For the next financial year, the Asian Development Bank instilled hope by projecting GDP growth at 4 per cent as it thought “the country’s macro-economic fundamentals remain sound” and hoped the economy to recover strongly.

 

As is generally agreed, the capitalist model followed in India has done very little to promote welfare, including social infrastructure development, which would have benefitted the impoverished sections. Prof. Amartya Sen, one of the many critics, questioned the major assumptions of this model that sufficient production of goods will ensure their availability to all. This has not happened in the country as the top-down approach failed to meet expectations of beneficiaries. This is also reinforced by the widening inequality between the rich and poor as also amongst the urban and rural sections of the population.

 

In such a critical situation, there are expectations of how quickly people will get back to work, keeping in mind the need to follow social distancing. While the industrial sector will not take long, small businesses may have problems adhering to government guidelines. As regards migrant workers and those who may take time to resume their normal activities, they need to be specially taken care of, perhaps through direct benefit transfer at least till May-end.  

 

An estimate by a well-known Left economist is: “If we add all cash transfers announced by Finance Minister Sitharaman, the amount comes to a mere Rs 34,000 crore, which is less than 10 per cent of what civil society organizations were asking for”. This is peanuts but it goes without saying that unlike the US and Europe, which can spend around 8 to 10 per cent of GDP without fear of a ratings downgrade, this is not the case with India, already suffering from a huge fiscal deficit.   

 

Meanwhile, the ILO has warned that around 400 million (40 crore) informal sector workers are at risk of falling deeper into poverty during the coronavirus crisis, prompting calls by the government to cushion the staggering blow. In its latest report, ‘ILO Monitor Second Edition: Covid-19 & the World of Work’ observed the crisis as the “worst global crisis since World War-II”.

 

Nagging fear, which may turn into a reality is that small traders and farmers would have a very rough time in the coming months as labourers may not be available, plus manufacturing would have to do with two or three workers and not getting requisite experienced hands.  Moreover, tiny units, which are more or less supported by households, too would require special attention. 

 

Resources would be a big constraint as disinvestments cannot be carried out in the first quarter of the current fiscal with stock markets having receded to very low levels. Thus, there would be a need to curtail unnecessary expenditure and focus on immediate needs. Mention may be made in this connection of banning foreign travels of government officials and even ministers, reduced allocation of funds to projects that could be delayed, reducing by say 5 per cent of defence expenditure and finally suspension of the Rs 20,000 crore Central vista construction and beautification project in Capital, Delhi. However, the decision to suspend MPLADS scheme for two years, till 2022 should have been given better thought as it would impact development activities in rural constituencies. Perhaps, the Centre would have done well to consider reducing it instead by 50 per cent only for this fiscal.

 

Importantly, the RBI will need and has to take a more active role by helping banks and financial institutions in the next three months. Some moratorium on loans needs to be considered and capital requirements, as far as possible may have to be met. Also there has to be a concerted strategy of boosting up the capital market by the LIC, SBI etc. as foreign investments may not be forthcoming. 

 

While COVID-19 spells doom, the government will need to change thinking and strategy. The thrust has to be rural India. As it is, 3000 children die every day from hunger and starvation and one in four children are malnourished in the country! All this points to the need for developing health infrastructure, specially in backward districts, sub-divisions and rural India per se.

 

Insofar as the private sector is concerned, so far there is no information how much of financial support it will get from the government--in all likelihood meagre. As examples of private nursing homes stare us in the face, wherein these were set up by getting land at subsidised rates from the government, but low income groups can’t afford these for treatment.

 

The focus on development as reiterated by this writer has obviously to be on the Gandhian model whereby economic inequality should not be allowed to widen further by linking consumption and sharing resources with the masses given that one is only a trustee of what one has and not strictly its legal owner. Unfortunately, this philosophy is spoken off by politicians and corporate leaders but not followed in letter and spirit. The scenarios may vary but it is good to believe that by May-end, the pandemic should show signs of receding, at least in India. There is hope.---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

13 April 2020

 

 

Post-COVID-19: RESURGENCE OF SWADESHI?, By Shivaji Sarkar, 13 April 2020 Print E-mail

Economic Highlight

New Delhi, 13 April 2020

Post-COVID-19

RESURGENCE OF SWADESHI?

By Shivaji Sarkar

 

The world is in a lockdown. India is competing with others to force its people to stay home. Where it fails, the cops step in and become the bad boys. No nation, rich or poor, knows how to control it. It is almost a month. People, rulers, administration all want a way out. The Governments are concerned. They do have to open up. However, neither imposing lockdown was easy nor is the decision to withdraw it. 

 

Despite all pessimism, India can remain assured that the lockdown is unnatural and nation would open up gradually, in phases from transport to tea gardens to farm goods sell, for sheer survival. Even highway dhabas, the largest consumers of potato have to open up to boost potato cultivators, says Ravindra Kumar Srivastava, one of the biggest potato growers in Kannauj, UP.

 

Panic can put one off for sometime but not all. Hope floats from the ending of the 76-day-lockdown of the worst corona-hit Wuhan in China. Others are also seeing the disease at a plateau or recovery rates increasing. But caution may be applied here as Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) points to possible community spread.  

 

The latest Reserve Bank of India assessment are not rosy either for the globe or for the home front. There are reports that growth may succumb to 1.6 per cent predicting not an easy future. But goods and capital globalisation started sliding since 61 per cent in 2008 to 59 per cent in 2018 and is likely to slump further.

 

What may be positive for India is revival of domestic production a la late 1970s. It may boost local economy in the next two years. Similarly, many other manufacturing of goods now being imported from China have also to be made here – one reason the latest Chinese imports becoming expensive.

 

That is vital to create jobs. And this opening up reminds the world of its problems – joblessness, 17 million (1.7 crore) in the US to over 5 crore in India as migrant population is out of job and industrial workers remain in uncertainty.

 

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) says it has shot up from 8.7 per cent in early March to 23.8 per cent by month end. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says India’s urban joblessness is at 31 per cent and rural 20 per cent – staggering 50 per cent. The salaried employees are a mere 10 per cent. They also are facing huge wage cuts.

 

It virtually may wipe out India’s seven decades record of poverty alleviation. The ILO says that 40 crore people are to slip deeper into poverty with a share of 90 per cent of people working in the informal sector. The delivery man, the loaders, vendors, couriers and small earners are all hit.

 

This remains an official concern. A new package of at least Rs 75000 crore is being mulled over for the informal sector, MSMEs and the most distressed. Factories too are supposed to open in phases with reduced workforce to maintain physical distancing to keep corona under check.

 

Even the IT sector has its problems. About one million in business process management (BPM) are in trouble. Most of them have been benched –euphemism for not having work. The National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) has sought help for them. It wants that government pays 50 per cent wages for the benched workers as also bear their provident fund obligations. Not an easy order, for the government is suffering severe revenue crunch.

 

As hordes of migrants holding H1B visas are ordered to leave the US, the domestic market may see wage drop too. The rural markets have seen it partially during the past two weeks as rural workers return home from cities.

 

This is a big problem and may be a solution emerges in the next few years. As imports come down, substitutes have to be manufactured nationally. There may be return of the swadeshi. If it happens it could eventually be ‘Made in India’-- much more than what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been trying at ‘Make in India’.

 

Experts see the possibility in the post-COVID-19, revival of nationalism as opposed to three decades of globalisation. It may reflect first in tourism. The number of international tourists globally touched 1.4 billion in 2018, rising from 900 million in 2008. National governments may weigh risks of infectious/contagious diseases vis-a-vis free travel and put restrictions.

 

As more workers go back home internationally and nationally, the global finance model, in many cases dependent on remittances, is likely to have a sea change. Incentivisation at home, partially now being seen in India too, may check international or transnational capital flows. The international migrant population that increased to 243 million in 2018 from 190 million a decade back may see sizeable drop as big nations turn protectionist.

 

And they have good reasons to be. Their economy is at the worst, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says that the corona crisis is worse than 9/11 World Trade Centre attack. Staggering unemployment figures and production losses in the US and Europe would see drop in labour demand, poor finance and structural problems. The lockdown may lead to many lock-outs. Protectionist trends are natural.

 

Re-nationalisation may be the global cry. India will have problems as Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) return as they did after 9/11 and the 2008 Lehman crises. It will also bring in opportunities such as India emerging as a global drug supplier in a new jacket-- Gandhian swadeshi. It may not be rigid but strong enough to create a new India, if planned in right perspective.

 

The Indian transport sector is in difficult situation. As truckers are locked up, essential commodity supplies are drying up raising prices. Supplies have to smoothen to help the sagging economy. The highways have become a source of exploiting irrational tolls. In a flailing global market even as crude hovers around $30 a barrel or less (sharp drop from $69), to give boost to the sector, the cess and other duties on petroleum must be cut.

 

India also has to realise that 10-year old car junking is not a solution to fight supposed pollution. This is the time people cannot give up their hard earned lifetime purchases. Empathy in decisions is a must. India has to adopt pro-people, pro-society policies. --- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

11 April 2020

 

 

Harvest Season: ANXIETY HITS STATES, FARMERS, By Insaf, 11 April 2020 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 11 April 2020

Harvest Season

ANXIETY HITS STATES, FARMERS

By Insaf

 

Nagging uncertainty lingers over the harvest season. States and farmers are anxious as the lockdown impacts their produce. The Centre should have done its homework before the sudden lockdown. There is danger of food grains and vegetables rotting and perishing due to acute shortage of labour, gone back to their villages and transportation blockade impacting truck movement across States carrying the produce. New Delhi should have kept States in the loop as mandis need to be kept open, labour should have been given confidence to stay back with packages announced and trucks transporting the essentials be allowed. But with none of these considered the harvesting of winter crops is making States, such as Punjab, Haryana and UP jittery. Not the present crop alone, but planting of next shall be hit. The list of woes is long: The ICAR has advised wheat farmers to postpone their harvest to April 20; Punjab desperately needs gunny bags to store the grains and has knocked on West Bengal doors; there is a scurry for harvesting machines; planting of summer ‘moong’ pulses is a challenge for farmers in Madhya Pradesh, UP, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan; wages are menacingly increasing and shall hit the producer etc. Are we heading for worse times, unprecedented food crisis or simply hunger crisis? Experts warn, but can Centre prove them wrong? 

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TN Must Get More Funds

Tamil Nadu is upset with the Centre. Allocation of Rs 510 crore disaster risk management fund so far to fight conronavirus is seen as unfair. On Wednesday last, the Madras High Court, in an interim order, directed New Delhi to ‘positively’ consider raising the States’ share given that of 5,194 people infected across the country till date, TN stood second with 690 patients while Maharashtra was first with 1,018 patients. It impleaded Home Ministry as respondent, saying quantum allocated to TN “was lower than the apportionment to States that have lesser COVID-19 cases.” However, hastened to add it was “not against allotment of more fund to other states, but concerned about TN getting lesser amount!” A PIL was filed by an NGO, India Awake for Transparency, seeking AIADMK government ensure 100% testing of all, who were exempted from lockdown. It did so, as well as ordered police to arrest all who were violating prohibitory orders and seize vehicles and asked authorities to verify persons “who are without food and shelter,” (daily wagers, migrant workers and platform dwellers) and provide them by having community kitchens. Worth a watch if both governments do justice.

*                 *                       *                 *                 *                    *                  *                 *

Odisha Doesn’t Wait

Odisha wants to take no chances. On Thursday last, it announced the lockdown will extend till April-end. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik decided not to wait for Prime Minister Modi’s final call on future course of action after deliberating with States. Governments of UP, MP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Telangana are said to be mulling over extension of lockdown for another two weeks, given that some 300 districts have at least one confirmed case and the number of deaths are on the rise. However, there is also a school of thought that there be a staggered exit strategy with an eye on hotspots in the 732-odd districts across the country. Be that as it may, Odisha has announced that schools and educational institutions shall remain closed till June 17 and has requested the Centre to continue the ban on air and train services till 30 April. Like many others, Patnaik believes “Life will not be the same ever. All of us must understand this and face it boldly together. With our sacrifice and with the blessing of Lord Jagannath, this too shall pass!”

*                 *                       *           *                       *           *                       *           *

MPs Upset With Centre

Not done, say Opposition MPs to Centre’s diktat on their MPLADs (Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme). On Monday last, the Centre chose to suspend MPLADs for two years, till 2022, i.e. Rs 7,900-odd crore and transfer into Consolidated Fund of India, to buy ‘medical equipment, testing and screening of patients and development of medical infrastructure’. Withdraw the order demand some MPs and leaders of Opposition parties such as Congress, TMC, CPI, RJD, Shiv Sena, TDP, YSR Congress etc as they should have been consulted first. Their protest: it’s a knee-jerk reaction like 4-hour notice lockdown; unilateral decision, will prove detrimental to parliamentary democracy; willing to forego over 30 % cut in MPs salary instead; gross injustice to take away MPs prerogative to spend fund according to their voters; will make MPs redundant and enforce presidential form of government; first scrap ‘vanity projects’ like Rs 20,000 crores redevelopment of Central Vista and BJP donate all “opaque” electoral bonds! Last but not least, the move warn MPs will ‘weaken fight against pandemic’, as Centre seeks to consolidate power in its own hands not realising it is being best fought at State and local level!

*                 *                       *           *                       *           *                       *           *

Kashmir’s  Advance Guard

Kashmir has a lot more on its plate that it can handle. Unlike the rest of the country which is dealing with COVID-19, the Valley has to keep a double watchful eye on the border and its neighbour. The assessment by the UN, that ‘terrorist or extremist groups may take profit from the uncertainty created by the spread of the pandemic,’ appears to be on the dot at least here. Five commandos belonging to an elite unit of Army were killed on Sunday last along the Line of Control in Kashmir in “an intense hand-to-hand battle” with an equal number of terrorists who had infiltrated in the Keran sector killed too. The army said it was a daring operation, in heavy snow and difficult terrain and commandos from 4 Para (SF) had to be called in to take over. With summer setting in, infiltration across the border as is known will increase and in a major way. Both Kashmir administration and the Centre will need to be extra alert as this time round, the situation due to the invisible enemy, the virus, seeks extra attention. Will Pakistan eventually pay heed to UN appeal for global ceasefire? Many in Kashmir sadly would say a big No!

*                 *                       *           *                       *           *                       *           *

Traditional Vs National Lockdown

Strong community values and high literacy rate can do wonders --a message from Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram to rest of country. So far these N-E states are said to have one patient each. How? An ancient ritual has aided AP authorities to have people stay indoors voluntarily. There are 26 tribes and the State has a history of following an ancient ritual of lockdown ‘Arrue’ -- self-quarantine during epidemic outbreak. Having ensured adequate food, medicine and other essential supplies, self-quarantine began in every village with prayers wherein a deity is invited to protect its people from diseases. No entry and exit to and from villages is to happen till epidemic ceases! Likewise, Mizoram has a story. The State in fact announced lockdown a day before Modi did after setting up a State-level committee with various NGOs and church leaders to enforce it. Plus, people in Aizawl recently observed ‘Palm Sunday’, a religious festival where people were within home premises holding palm leaves and chanting with the priest reciting prayers. The same procedure was followed in each and every village, and within regulations. Time to go back to basics?---INFA

 (Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

10 April 2020

 

 

Bloodshed At Border: HOW DOES INDIA STOP IT?, By Dr. D K Giri, 10 April 2020 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 10 April 2020


Bloodshed At Border

HOW DOES INDIA STOP IT?

By Dr. D K Giri

(Prof. International politics, JMI)

 

The entire world is completely or partially locked down in a desperate fight against the deadly disease for physical survival. The virus strikes even the high and mighty, the British Prime Minister has gone into ICU and many honchos in various sectors are taken ill. This is perhaps the first time in recorded human history where the entire world is in a battle against a common invisible enemy, the COVID-19, even the bubonic plague that erupted in 14th century killing innumerable people was confined only to Europe. Under such global pall of gloom, people are teetering on the brink in apprehension of the multiple fallouts of the corona outbreak.

 

Overwhelmed as we are by such a blood-chilling scenario, one is bitten by the news that five elite commandoes are found dead in the Keran sector in North Kashmir. While three of them died in action, two succumbed to their injuries in the army hospital. The five dead bodies of terrorist-infiltrators by the side of the commandoes indicate a close hand-to-hand combat. This is surely shocking when the entire world, as said before, is engaged in a battle for survival of humans. How does one explain this madness of people, misguided by Pakistan, and how do we stop spilling the blood of our people at the border?

 

The presence of infiltrators on our side of the LoC was noticed by spotting their footprints with spy drones. Operation Randori Behak was launched and the army’s Special Force commandoes were airdropped on snow bound Keran sector at an altitude of around 10,000 feet. As per Army sources, the commandoes slid into a ditch where the infiltrators were hiding. They were all neutralized as we lost five of our commandoes.

 

The incident of last Sunday raises quite a few questions that need immediate as well as long-term answers. The immediate challenge is, there may be more such adventurism by terrorists from across the border to sneak in as the country’s attention is focused on controlling the spread of the virus. Although the Army is always alert, the political leadership may not be. Second, terrorists would like to stretch the resources of our country and continue to foment trouble in Kashmir. Third, India cannot stop the bloodshed without a durable solution to cross-border terrorism.

 

New Delhi needs to adopt a two-pronged approach to handle the situation. One, to maintain peace, harmony, order and above all self-respect in Kashmir valley, so that the international forces do not have excuses to meddle. Any unrest in Kashmir will draw international attention, and India has to spend energy and resources in combating the negative international perceptions. Second, is to shift its focus to reclaiming POK, rather than defending our part of Kashmir. Such a shift of strategy will change the goal posts and alter the terms of negotiations with Pakistan.

 

Historically, Kashmir has been always an occupied territory. Their struggle for self-determination predates the partition of India in 1947. Since the Mughals annexed it in 1589 AD, Kashmiris never had the right or opportunity to rule themselves. After the Mughals, it was ruled by Afghans (1753-1819), Sikhs (1819 to 1846) and then Dogras 1846-1947. The Dogras bought Kashmir from the British Empire for 7.5 million nanak shahi rupees, the ruling currency of Sikh Empire. The Dogra king Hari Singh wanted independence at the time of partition, but acceded to India as Pakistani-backed tribes attacked the State.

 

New Delhi is concerned about its role and responsibility since Kashmir’s accession to India in 1947, but the process is incomplete as Pakistan illegally occupies part of it. On 5 August 2019, New Delhi took the most radical step on Kashmir since 1947, i.e. abrogating Article 370 that conferred special status to the Valley and bringing it under direct control as a union territory. New Delhi should have no excuse in developing Kashmir as it wants, of course without further alienating its inhabitants. There are four groups of people, subdued at the time, in terms of their political inclinations; the Pro-Indians, Pro-Pakistanis, Pro-Independence, and Pro-peace and normalcy.

 

The pro-Pakistan is a fringe group without much backing of the locals. The Pro-Independence group is also losing support as many realise an independent Kashmir will not be a feasible or even a viable entity. Many will in fact settle for a united Kashmir with some autonomy for the sake of the Kashmiri history and culture. And the fourth group, perhaps the silent majority will want peace and normalcy to be restored. A Kashmiri student of mine studying in Jamia articulated this aspiration well. She said, “The education, health and communication systems have collapsed. My classmates (she is 2nd Year MA) are yet to complete their graduation due to continual disruption of classes.” What they want is a normal life to get on with.

 

New Delhi has planned many development projects. Instead of completing them, it has come with a Domicile Law. One finds this government’s sense of priorities quite incomprehensible. Once normalcy is restored, and development is seen to be picking, people may be inclined to new laws. One hears about lot of resentment against the domicile law. It is like the introduction of NRC. When the country was looking up to a new phase of growth and world status with the second coming of our powerful Prime Minister, we are thrown into a controversial prospect of NRC, thanks to the unrest that follows.

 

The second part of the strategy is retrieving POK. The Army General, the Home Minister, and other leaders have gone public that POK belongs to India and it a question of time India takes it back. But one does not notice any strategy, diplomatic, political, or military towards this goal. We are gaining a reputation for tall talks and no action. This will not help in the end. New Delhi should without loss of any more time, as soon as the coronavirus is somewhat under control, ask Pakistan to vacate POK. India should ask for the implementations of the UN resolution, which asks for withdrawal of Pakistani forces, or invoke Shimla Agreement and ask for the unification of Kashmir.

 

Once Kashmir is unified, it may be given some autonomy to protect their culture etc as an integral part of India. New Delhi should come out with a white paper on the reunification of Kashmir and its development as a state of India. That is the way to stop bloodshed in the border. Without that once-for-all decisive step, we will continue to do the fire fighting, retaliate the terrorists attack engineered from Pakistan, diplomatically deal with the meddling and manipulation by the vested interest within and outside the country. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

8 April 2020

 

 

 

Public Health Emergency: EXTRAORDINARY POWER VITAL, By Dr. S. Saraswathi, 9 April 2020 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 9 April 2020

Public Health Emergency

EXTRAORDINARY POWER VITAL

By Dr. S. Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

 

The Supreme Court has held that all restrictions imposed on people from entering, attending, or taking part in court proceedings is lawful in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. These are considered to be in tune with best public health practices to contain the contagion. The SC made it clear that public health takes precedence over conventions.

 

When the WHO declared a global health emergency on 31 January after exportation of coronavirus from China to many other countries was noticed, all countries were required to be ready for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation, contact tracing, case management and prevention of onward transmission of COVID-19 infection. India as an affected nation has to take strong emergency measures necessary to control the spread of the epidemic.

  

Indian Constitution originally provided for three kinds of emergencies -- external aggression, internal disturbances, and financial emergency. The provision for declaring emergency to deal with internal disturbance was removed in 1977 and was replaced by the term “armed rebellion”.   When emergency is in force, the executive power of the Union extends to giving directions to any State as to the manner in which its executive power should be exercised.

  

Under the Indian Constitution, public health and sanitation, hospitals and dispensaries are in the State List in the distribution of powers. However, prevention of extension from one State to another of contagious diseases or pests affecting men, animals, and plants are in the Concurrent List.

 

Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees protection of life and personal liberty to every citizen as a fundamental right. The Supreme Court has held that the right to live with human dignity derives from the Directive Principles and includes improvement of public health among the primary duties of the State. The right to health is held to be integral to the right to life and the government has a constitutional obligation to provide health facilities. The SC has upheld the State’s obligation to maintain health services.

 

The law that gives power to the State to take action in times of epidemics is the Epidemic Diseases Act enacted in 1897 and is being used whenever required. Under this, Central and State governments are empowered to take strong measures to control the spread of coronavirus.

 

Whether there is any provision to declare specific Health Emergency under the Constitution or not, situation in our country today calls for vesting extraordinary powers with the government to take stern action to control COVID-19 epidemic. As the virus has imported itself from abroad, it amounts to an external aggression from unidentified source – natural or human. The epidemic, because of its severity and speed of transmission, requires strict restrictions on normal activities including movements and contacts, production and distribution of goods and thousands of related work.

 

Massive human problems like return of migrants to their native places in panic are unavoidable and the governments have to handle them in a humane manner while keeping strong grip over the measures undertaken. Without some extraordinary powers and their strict application, and without tightening rules and procedures, it is not possible to fight epidemics and their pathological and human friends.  

 

The impact of all this will adversely affect the nation’s financial state as in all other countries and will demand strong financial regulations as emergency measures to tide over the crisis and   save our economy. Hopefully, our strong informal economy and the unorganized sector will keep the country going.  

 

The principal criteria in declaration of emergency in any democratic country appear to be present in India today. They include an exigent situation that demands prompt decisions accompanied with quick action; enormous actual and potential danger to lives, and safety and health of the people; and a situation that could not be controlled by normal laws, regulations and procedures.

 

Added to these, pandemics occur without any warning and do not respond to normal action.  They are invisible enemies. The entire government machinery at the Central, State and local levels and various private and voluntary agencies are fully engaged in fighting Covid-19 from various angles – a situation that the country had never experienced even in war time. There can be and should not be any opposition to granting extraordinary powers to the government to quell the disease – no matter by what name it is called.  

 

Section 144 is imposed in many places by state governments, but not strictly enforced. Even policemen trying to disburse crowds are attacked. Governments have to take strong action if advices do not work.  That is the compulsion of public health emergency.

 

The Madras High Court, in the overall interest of the citizenry, imposed a blanket ban on all protests including anti-CAA agitations till Covid-19 subsides. The protest at Shaheena Bagh in Delhi continued long after the spread of the virus. Our democracy seems to safeguard people’s right to protest as a sacred right to the utmost extent at the cost of public health. Similarly, many religious events are still going on permitting crowding putting religious faith and propagation as a priority before public health.

 

If people do not and are not willing to understand the seriousness of the situation and if there are groups out to sabotage efforts to contain the epidemic and contribute to panic and disturbances, there is no alternative to strict enforcement of public health emergency measures by assuming extraordinary powers.   

 

During health emergencies, there has to be a national consensus to subordinate normal way of life to health prescriptions. Any criticism of the lockdown as “ill-planned” and movement of migrants as “alarming”, without offering constructive suggestions, is cheap politics. 

 

In Australia, state and territory health authorities manage health emergencies. The National Health Security Act 2007 is supported by the National Health Security Agreement between the Australian Government and State Territory Governments which sets out a framework for decision-making to support a national response to health emergencies.

 

The British PM said that all political parties have a duty to work together at a time of national emergency. In the US, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under the Public Service Act determines the existence of a disease or disorder or outbreak of an infectious disease or bio-terrorist attacks that poses a health emergency. The declaration lasts for the duration of the emergency or 90 days, but may be extended.

 

State laws in the US provide for health emergency powers to permit designated officials -   Governors and top health officers - to take extraordinary legal action to respond to serious health situations when adherence to ordinary laws and procedures are not enough to save lives.

 

COVID-19 has brought out the paramount importance of State action in emergencies, particularly the role of the Union Government leadership. The significance of State-people cooperation is also emerging as a potent weapon to fight the disease. Union-State cooperative action and an unusual spirit of cooperation showing its presence between different political parties are hopeful signs that the nation can work together at least in emergencies. It is time to repose faith in governments and entrust necessary powers to them foregoing even some of our personal liberty and comfort.---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

7 April 2020

 

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