Formulate a plan for handling COVID-19 crisis: Congress

Formulate a national plan for handling coronavirus crisis: Congress to govt

Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal. (Credit: PTI Photo)

The Congress on Saturday urged the government to formulate a national plan for handling the coronavirus crisis under the Disaster Management Act. Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said at a press conference via video-conferencing that it is time the government should rethink on lockdown measures as the country cannot have the "lockdown of people and lockout of the economy".

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"You cannot have a lockdown of people, and a lockout of the economy. That is not the way to formulate policy. We are not criticising, we are only saying it is time to rethink, we will support the government in every possible way,"he said.

Sibal also called upon the judiciary to evolve a policy to ensure that the justice delivery system is considered an essential service during such crisis. Sibal alleged that bureaucrats, who do not have any idea about ground realities, were formulating policy for the government during the lockdown.

The former union minister said as per the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the Union government was duty bound to formulate the National Plan to deal with COVID-19, but strangely the government has maintained "conspicuous silence" on the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

The Union government, in the absence of a National Plan to deal with COVID-19, seems to have delegated its responsibilities under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to state governments, he alleged.

Without the necessary infrastructure, both human and physical, and adequate financial resources, state governments are not in a position to effectively deal with this pandemic, he noted. "Our prime minister’s limited role, so far as we can see, is addressing the nation from time to time.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) made no preparations to put in place a plan despite the WHO declaring the virus to be a public health emergency towards the end of January. "Why were detailed plans not made within seven weeks of the WHO declaration when on March 24, the prime minister announced a national lockdown? We are in the fourth week of April, yet there is no plan in place even now," Sibal said.

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"We would like the prime minister to inform the people of this country about the minimum standards of relief that are required to be provided to persons affected by the disaster. Instead of discharging its solemn responsibilities to provide succour to the poor and helpless stranded migrants, the Union government has chosen to shift the onus to state governments to do what they can without a plan and without guidelines prescribing minimum standards of relief," Sibal alleged.

"It is unfortunate that even till date, there is no plan. We are all aware that the provisions in shelters are pathetic without adequate sanitation, medical cover, food and clean drinking water. States are not able to make available adequate food supplies to those affected," he said.

The secretary, Ministry of Home Affaires (MHA), presumably presiding over the National Executive Committee (NEC) under the Act, is issuing directions to state governments to deal with the situation as best as they can. He said the secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), presumably presiding over the National Executive Committee (NEC) under the Act, is issuing directions to state governments to deal with the situation as best as they can.

"Bureaucrats sitting in North Block are formulating policies. I am sorry to say they have no capacity to do that as they do not know what is happening on the ground. "This top-down approach would not work, it has to be a bottoms-up approach," the Congress leader demanded.

The Congress leader also said the impact of lockdown on small businesses has been devastating. Not only are their finances stretched but many of them do not have the capacity to pay, he said, adding if they do not, they are liable to be penalised and prosecuted.

He said Section 10(2) of the Act does not even authorise NEC to issue any such directions, leave alone the MHA. It envisages the constitution of a fund to be called the National Disaster Management Fund (Section 47), he said, adding that it is for “projects exclusively for the purpose of mitigation”. Sibal said one wonders whether laws enacted by parliament are meant to be followed or disregarded by governments. "Jettisoning laws passed by parliament is constitutionally impermissible.

Apart from the fact that the Union did not have a plan of action and foisted its responsibilities on state governments, the Union’s outreach for saving lives and protecting human dignity reached rock-bottom," he said.

Public functionaries must conduct affairs of state in accordance with the constitution and the laws, he noted, adding that no one is above the law. "Rule through diktat by men belonged to another era. Our country deserves better," he said.