Local officials not getting lockdown instructions right: Centre to states
Local officials are not on the same page as the Union government on federal recommendations on the lockdown to fight the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), risking agriculture, routine health care and critical supplies, a communication sent out to states by the Centre shows.
There are different “interpretations” of the Centre’s orders on exemptions “on the ground” during the three-week, nationwide lockdown, the communication cautions, indicating that states are not getting federal instructions right at a crucial stage when India is fighting a pandemic that has infected over 3,000 people in the country.
The communication comes amid reports that tight rules to enforce social distancing are being applied to exempted essential activities, which district officials are regulating with lockdown permits.
On at least three occasions, the Union cabinet secretariat and the home ministry have renewed guidelines on which services to allow and how to manage supply lines, but these have not “percolated down”, the communication to all states said on Friday.
It also urged states to ensure district authorities are appropriately briefed to avoid “ambiguity”.
Communication lapses could test the limits of efforts to supply essentials to a billion people during the lockdown. For instance, there are reports that diagnostics laboratories, necessary for patients of many non-communicable and communicable diseases, are not adequately functioning in many centres, although they enjoy federal exemptions. This risks the health of people with ailments such as diabetes, heart or neurological conditions
The Centre’s communication on April 3 asked states to allow “opening of temporary collection centres, movement of lab technicians and transportation of samples from collection centres to laboratories”.
The letter to chief secretaries of states said at the “ground level, different interpretations are being made on exemptions”, which have “hindered” smooth flow of the supply chains.
Farmer communities face one of the greatest risks of income losses in what is a key spring harvest season for a range of crops, such as wheat, potato and onion.
The Centre has renewed its guidelines on three occasions, especially on allowing agriculture and linked activities that form the farm-to-fork supply chain, on March 25, March 26 and April 3.
Farm production, warehousing and transport are critical to the agriculture sector that employs nearly half of the population, with a 16% share in the country’s gross domestic product. On Saturday, the Centre issued a fresh advisory to allow farm machinery and their servicing points.
Federal instructions have allowed these sectors to operate in a regulated manner. To ensure social distancing, the mainstay of India’s strategy to fight Covid-19, isn’t compromised while keeping these sectors open, “district authorities have resorted to a pass system”, a senior official of the agriculture ministry said, requesting not to be quoted.
The Centre’s advisory on the functioning of these sectors on April 3, seen by HT, said: “Difficulties in getting passes are, however, being faced by businesses with nationwide supply chains of essential goods.”
To address this issue, the Centre has asked states to give priority in issuing passes to firms that cater to nationwide supply lines.
A key challenge for local officials has been to regulate essential activities that comply with social distancing rules. “Local administration might have tilted more towards the latter. They have constrained capacities. In these situations, the district collector and district police chief have the biggest responsibilities,” said Ananda Kumar Pai, a retired Indian Administrative Service officer.