Lockdown Effect: Cooperative Federalism at last?
The lockdown is hitting the States hard. New Delhi’s doors are being knocked at. Prime Minister Modi and team needs to do a lot more than ask citizens to switch off the lights in their homes and light candles, diyas or mobile flashlight for nine minutes at 9pm on Sunday to show unity of 1.3 billion people. In a video conference on Thursday last with Chief Ministers, Modi was given a list of what Centre needs to do: pay their GST compensation, release wages of workers enrolled under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme immediately and help in Coronavirus relief efforts, among others. Their justification being a severe funding crunch, the industry particularly the MSME sector has sought release of outstanding payments by government agencies and that salary cuts for their employees will not help ride the tide. This according to Modi’s team will mean that government may need to borrow Rs 40,000-odd crore to compensate these cash-strapped States and push its departments and PSUs to clear their vendors’ dues. How soon, is the big question and worry?
And Chief Ministers may keep their respective check lists: West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee asks for compensation of Rs 36,000 crore under different accounts including Rs 25,000 crore to meet COVID -19 expenses, Punjab’s Amarinder Singh asks for Rs 6,752.83 crore in GST arrears immediately as payment pending since October last; Bihar’s Nitish Kumar requests for raising fiscal deficit limit; Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot demands Rs 1 lakh crore and inter-State supply chain protocol for essential items, medicines, medical equipment; Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray seeks Rs 16,000 crore of GST compensation and help for procurement/manufacturing of PPE kits/N-95 masks; Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik demands unemployment allowance to 3.61 million active MGNREGS workers and Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel too wants special relief package for labourers under MGNREGS and a support of Rs 750 per month to all Jan-Dhan account holders for next three months, etc. Should there be hope that both the Centre and States will strive to uphold the elusive spirit of cooperative federalism, in these unprecedented times?
Delhi Hits Spotlight
Tablighi Jamaat congregation has got Kejriwal’s Delhi hit national headlines –for both right and wrong reasons. The first, last month’s congregation turns out to be the biggest hotspot, ‘accounting for about one-fifth of the COVID-19 positive cases across the country’. And of the total 53 deaths so far, 15 are said to be linked to the gathering–Telangana (9) and one each in Gujarat, Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Karnataka and Mumbai. On Thursday last, the number of positive cases in the nation’s capital ‘have almost doubled fuelled largely by those evacuated from Markaz Nizamuddin on Tuesday and Wednesday testing positive,’ says a report. And of the 2069 positive cases across the nation, 400 positive cases have been linked to the congregation. While there is a raging controversy whether it was deliberate flouting of protocols by the community and its organisers or not, and can only be confirmed later, another unfortunate aspect begs attention. The event unfortunately is being misused and manipulated by a section of groups and indirectly by authorities to fuel distrust and stain an entire community. There should be no singling out and governments must guard against it. Hatred can be all consuming and the nation can ill-afford to get its priorities wrong.
J&K Domicile Shock
It’s a double whammy for J&K. Coping with coronavirus like the rest of country, though sans 4G internet connection, Kashmiris got a second shock, a bigger one. On Tuesday last, the Centre imposed a new domicile law which will have consequences on region’s demography. Domiciles are now defined as those who have resided for 15 years in UT of J&K or studied for 7 years and appeared in Class 10/12 exams in an educational institution located in the UT. Concerns over the pandemic, with 55 positive cases and two deaths, have taken a backseat. Tweets are clear pointers: Omar Abdullah: “Talk about suspect timing. At a time when all our efforts & attention should be focused on #COVID outbreak, the government slips in a new domicile law. Insult is heaped on injury when we see the law offers none of the protections promised.” Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter: “Imposing it in times of a global pandemic reveals a callous & paranoid mindset wilfully violating consent to ensure subjugation… They are in a maddening rush to appropriate our land & resources. Wonder why they don’t show the same sense of urgency to save lives of thousands of Kashmiris jailed in & outside J&K?” Importantly, the J&K Apni Party, seen to have New Delhi’s blessings is peeved too, saying it’s a “casual attempt, cosmetic in nature, to hoodwink people of J&K.” Criticism apart, the timing is unfair, immoral and unacceptable, to say the least?
Kerala’s Mental Agony
God’s own country, Kerala, one of the pandemic hotspots, has more problems on its hands—the mental health of its people due to virus and shutdown of liquor shops. The government has had to engage 950 counsellors to talk to over 150,000 people under quarantine and 700-odd patients in hospitals to help them overcome fears. Counsellors are working 24×7 in shifts answering calls from people with stress, anxieties and patients “shouting or crying” in fear of attached stigma, outrage and deprivation. “Some really need psychological counselling and some show suicidal tendencies”, say psychologists. The fear can’t be wished away, as at least six persons, below 40 years, have committed suicide, due to non-availability of liquor since lockdown. Though many are admitted in de-addiction centres, the excise department has now been directed to serve liquor to chronic alcoholics having withdrawal symptoms, based on doctor’s prescription! It’s “against dignity and ethics of the profession. Alcohol is not a medicine and can’t be prescribed to any patient,” opposes Kerala Government Medical Officers Association. But with State having 1.6 million-odd alcoholics, government finds itself between the devil and deep blue sea!
Rise In Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is on the rise in the times of corona! Notwithstanding the hardships the lockdown has triggered among sections of people across the country, it emerges that women particularly too are at the receiving end. Since March 24, the National Commission for Women has received 257 complaints, of which 69 are cases of domestic violence. An alarming rise, though the number could be higher as women may be scared to complain due to the constant presence of their abuser at home, says its chairperson Rekha Sharma. A State-wise analysis reveals the maximum complaints were received from Uttar Pradesh (90), followed by Delhi (37). Women rights activists too confirm the rise and attribute reasons such as: women can’t move to safer places or their parent’s home due to lockdown; captivity anyway drives people crazy and abusive situations only make it worse; everyone is at home and women aren’t getting courage to contact for help. There is, however, a silver lining, i.e. there is a slight reduction in complaints of rape or attempt to rape or dowry harassment!