Govt forms empowered groups, task force to deal with Covid-19 outbreak
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on Sunday formed 10 empowered groups and a strategic task force comprising senior civil servants to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak and its aftermath.
The setting up of the groups and the task force, which together have 68 bureaucrats, is an attempt to forge a planning and implementation machinery that acts in concert to minimise the impact of the disease the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global pandemic.
It underlines the recognition by the Narendra Modi government of the need for a more comprehensive approach towards tackling the outbreak, which has posed an unprecedented public health crisis, and its aftermath, expected to bring wide-ranging social and economic consequences.
The groups will consult frequently over video conferencing or meetings to provide suggestions to the government. They will also monitor their areas of ambit daily and are empowered to take decisions, indicating the pace with which the Centre wants these groups to act.
The six-member strategic task force will deal exclusively with issues related to the lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for three weeks starting March 25. Dr. VK Paul, a member of the policy think tank Niti Aayog; home secretary Ajay Kumar Valla; secretary (coordination) VP Joy and three officials from the Prime Minister’s Office —AK Sharma, Arvind Srivastava and Abhishek Shukla —will be part of the team.
The first empowered group will oversee “the medical emergency management plan” and is headed by VK Paul. It also has four other members—representatives of the health ministry, the National Disaster Management Authority and the department overseeing direct benefit transfer.
The second group will look into “availability of hospitals, isolation and quarantine facilities, disease surveillance and testing and critical care training”. Headed by CK Mishra, secretary of the ministry of environment, forests and climate change, the panel comprises Vinod Yadav, chairman of the Railway Board; Dr. Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi; and one senior official each from the defence and health ministries.
All the 10 empowered groups have a representative each from the cabinet secretariat as a member.
The biggest group will deal with “facilitating supply chain and logistics management for availability of necessary items such as food and medicine”, indicating the importance of the supply chains in making the lockdown successful. Headed by Parameswaran Iyer, secretary of the department of drinking water and sanitation, the panel has 10 other members including consumer affairs secretary Pawan Agarwal; Guruprasad Mohapatra, secretary of the department for promotion of industry and internal trade; textiles secretary Rajeev Kapoor and senior officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, the ministry of external affairs,ministry of health and department of health research.
With a large section of the political establishment worried about the social and economic fallout of Covid-19 —as evident from tens of thousands of migrant workers heading home from the cities and the shutdown of commercial and industrial establishments —the government has also formed a separate group on “economic and welfare measures.”
It is headed by Atanu Chakraborty, secretary of the department of economic affairs. Expenditure secretary TV Somnath, labour secretary Heeralal Samariya and rural development secretary Rajesh Bhushan are its members along with officials from the PMO and the financial services department.
Ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises Arun Panda will head a panel on “augmenting human resources and capacity building” and information and broadcasting secretary Ravi Mittal will preside over a group on “information communication and public awareness”.
Ministry of electronics and information technology secretary Ajay Sawhney leads the panel on technology and data management and Amit Khare, secretary of the human resources development, the panel on public grievances and suggestions.
Achiransu Acharyya, economist with Viswa-Bharati, said, “The government forming so many empowered group of secretaries indicate that they want a more coordinated approach among different ministries on issues to tackle. I must say this could have happened earlier and also a mechanism should be set up with the states.”