Coronavirus update: How the government is coping with lockdown
India has reported 482 cases of Covid-19 so far and nine deaths across the country.Updated: Mar 24, 2020 13:25 IST
Amid the lockdown and restrictions across the country clamped to stop the outbreak of Covid-19, the coronavirus disease, the functioning of the government has also been affected.
India has reported 482 cases of Covid-19 so far and nine deaths across the country.
Here is how various ministries in the government of India are coping with the lockdown and enhanced restrictions while continuing to do their work.
“We are strictly following DoPT’s [Department of Personnel and Training] OM [office memorandum] dated March 22, 2020,” a finance ministry spokesperson said.
“Preventive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19”, directs heads of departments of all central government offices to draw up a roster of staff that includes all officers and employees, including consultants, contract and outsourced employees, who are required to render essential services within each department.
“They alone may be asked to attend office from 23rd March until 31st March 2020. In other words, the office should function with a skeletal staff,” it said.
Officials working from home should be available on telephone and electronic means of communications at all times, it said. They should attend office if called for, in case of any exigencies of work, it added.
It has directed the Department of Financial Services (DFS), which is the administrative authority for public sector banks and insurers, to implement the same directive.
The office of DFS is not located at the North Block. It functions from a building about 2km of North Block that houses the finance ministry.
Ministry of railways
Majority of the 1.3 million-strong Indian Railways’ workforce has also been asked to ensure bare minimum staff to come to work.
Maintenance staff at railway locomotive sheds, however, are still working “at a bare minimum level as goods train loco needs attention,” the railway ministry said. Goods trains’ locomotives also require minimum maintenance work on a daily basis.
There is a lack of clarity at some such sheds over directions issued by the ministry on how the daily functioning would be affected.
On Monday, an employee of the Eastern Railways zone in West Bengal who had contracted Covid-19 died.
For now, given an unprecedented cancellation of all passenger, mail express and suburban trains, the ministry has put on hold all priority projects and is focusing on monitoring the situation on the ground.
The priority will be to make arrangements from March 31 when the ban on public transport is scheduled to be lifted.
“Railways is working 24X7... We are ensuring supply by moving goods like food grain, coal, POL, milk, vegetables etc, which is very important for society. We clearly understand our responsibility during the next few months. Please support us in fighting the spread of corona and ensuring essential supplies to the public,” the ministry said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
External affairs ministry
Only the most essential divisions in the external affairs ministry handling Covid-19 related matters and the issues of stranded Indians are currently functioning, though, with reduced staff, people familiar with developments said.
Among the divisions that are currently working are administration, the Covid-19 cell, the foreign secretary’s office and the foreign minister’s office, the people said. Rosters have been created for officials to come to work by turns.
Other divisions have resorted to working from home and are using teleconferences to discuss important issues, the people said.
“It’s all coronavirus related issues now, anyway. Nothing else is happening. Even the limited bilateral and multilateral engagements underway are related to coordinated efforts to tackle Covid-19, such as the engagement at the level of Saarc or G20,” said a person who declined to be named.
Housing and urban affairs ministry
Following the order issued by DoPT, the ministry issued a detailed advisory to its employees. It also suggested that as a precautionary measure, leave be granted expeditiously to all employees who apply for it whenever a request is made for self-quarantine.
At a project monitoring level, the ministry has not stopped work on any of its key projects especially its most ambitious project— the Central Vista redevelopment plan.
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On March 20 as the Centre was preparing for a countrywide lockdown, the housing ministry notified the land-use change of over 86-acre area in Lutyens’ Delhi that currently houses some of India’s landmark buildings like the Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhavan, North Block and South Block, among others, to expedite completion of the Rs 20,000-crore Central Vista redevelopment project.
Earlier in March, the Hindustan Times had reported that Centre’s application seeking environmental clearance for the construction of a new Parliament complex has been deferred by the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC), and the proposal is likely to be reconsidered after pending court cases related to the project are resolved.
The defence ministry and the armed forces have been at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19, setting up quarantine facilities across the country and carrying out evacuations from hotspots like Wuhan and Tehran.
The focus of the ministry is to ensure that the armed forces stay prepared for all challenges not just along the borders but also inside the country where Covid-19 cases are soaring. Another focus is to make sure the disease does not spread within the military’s ranks.
Work in the ministry appears to be progressing well despite the coronavirus situation --- the ministry had green-lighted a Rs 38,000-crore jet deal and unveiled a new draft policy for arms acquisition that seeks to promote indigenisation. The armed forces are issuing instructions to their personnel almost on a daily basis on how to stop the spread of Covid-19 and stay prepared for tasks assigned to them.
Department of military affairs
The department of military affairs, under the chief of defence staff, has issued a letter directing all staff to adhere to the government’s fresh guidelines on preventive measures to contain the spread of Covid-19.
The letter, issued on Monday, said except for officials engaged in essential services, the rest are directed not to attend office from Match 23 to March 31.
“However all the officers/officials are requested to be available on telephone and electronic means of communication at all times,” said the letter.
Last week, the Indian Army announced home quarantine for soldiers posted in its headquarters here, staggered office timings and imposed a temporary freeze on postings and foreign assignments. The Indian Air Force (IAF) also plans to work with 50% manpower in rotation to prevent the spread of disease within its ranks.
Rural development ministry
In the rural development ministry, just 5% of the officials are coming to office.
But many senior officers are working overtime from office because the financial year is coming to an end and the individual ministries need to submit their reports in the government’s expenditure management system.
These reports include both receipts as well as claims.
“Our team is working on skeletal staff. Most of the rooms as closed but many officers are working from home too,” said a senior bureaucrat of the ministry.
Department of Personnel and Training
For the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), work has been streamlined to ensure a smooth flow of information. All senior officers are communicating via calls and the internet, officials said while speaking to HT.
“Our priority right now is to ensure a seamless exchange of information. Key decisions are being taken, yesterday, the UPSC results were declared and uploaded on the website and released by our officials from home,” an official said.
Nearly 80% of DoPT staff is now working from home.
“The aim is to curtail the spread of the virus and the best way to ensure that is to follow government directives, especially on social distancing,” the official said.
The Union ministry of women and child development, in an office memorandum dated March 18, sent a set of preventive measures to all the employees of the ministry as well as those of its autonomous organisations and attached agencies.
These include the National Commission for Women, Central Adoption Resource Agency and National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
Employees, who are unwell, are to work from home and asked to keep meetings at a minimum and rely on videoconference and telephones instead.
The ministry also asked its employees to not crowd the chambers and corridors of offices and asked officers to ensure that staff attached with them be allowed to work in shifts.
It also directed employees to rely on the DoPT notification from March 17, which detailed the steps all central employees and offices must take to halt the spread.