Cong States Vs Centre: Invisible enemy surpassed!
The battle has sadly shifted from fighting the invisible enemy to gloves being off between the States and the Centre. New Delhi is not providing financial assistance to Opposition Congress-ruled States, an accusation which has come into sharp focus in lockdown COVID-19 II, dashing hopes of cooperative federalism seen in early stages of the epidemic. At the Congress Working Committee meeting via video conferencing on Thursday last, Chief Ministers of Rajasthan, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Puducherry spelt out grievances of the Centre not paying heed to their demands respectively: Gehlot said the rapid testing kits have failed and there is urgent need for centralised procurement of kits, ventilators to ensure availability, quality and quantity; Amarinder Singh pointed out to resources of Rs 4,400 crore of GST not having been released by the Centre and instead of 1 lakh rapid testing kits, they got only 10,000; Baghel warned of situation arising out of return of students and migrant workers stuck in other States and sought a policy by the Centre, which “unfortunately was silent”. V Narayanasamy accused the Centre of not giving any aid, “How will the state survive in times of crisis…We are not enemies but have to act, work together.” Does more need be said?
West Bengal Hits Back
West Bengal is back to its devious tactics. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday last has accused the Centre of dispatching faulty COVID-19 testing kits, and is ignoring the two Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (IMCTs) request for a detailed presentation, inspection visits to 12 hotspots, nine COVID-19 hospitals, six markets, and four quarantine centres across Kolkata, Howrah, East Midnapore and North 24 Parganas. This follows among others, a report of National Institute of Epidemiology, showing the State in bottom of the list with just 5000 tests, though the proportion of people testing positive was 6.8%, 2nd highest after Delhi with 8%. The one-man army of the State remains Mamata didi, who is either attacking the Centre or just talking about her intense ‘concern’ for the people. Her drama of moving around the city is indeed unique but doesn’t really help contain the epidemic. The poor health infrastructure, virtually non-existent in many rural areas, has complicated matters. Necessary tests are not being conducted in rural areas or even in small and medium towns. Only time will tell how the ever-enterprising Mamatadidi will hide vital statistics and tackle the situation?
Gujarat Faux Pas
The Gujarat government comes in for a rude shock. All set to do a good deed –disburse Rs 1000 through direct bank transfer (DBT) under its “Mukhyamantri Garib Kalyan Package” (CM’s welfare package for poor) during the lockdown, the food, civil supplies and consumer affairs department woke up to the fact that over 26 lakh ration cards holders of the over 68 lakh have been found to be “unverified”. The scheme costing Rs 680 crore was announced on April 18 and money to be disbursed April 20 onwards. Instead it has now had to deploy a workforce of 17,000 government teachers for a ‘door-to-door’ survey since Thursday last to verify 38% of these cards under National Food Security Act as these neither have verified bank accounts nor Aadhar numbers are linked to their accounts nor are they availing LPG subsidy through Aadhaar numbers linked to ration cards! So what were they doing all this while? Their explanation: “we have never used the data we have to transfer money directly to their bank accounts!” Not only is be time consuming, but defeats the very purpose of reaching out to the needy when they most need it. Worse, besides Ahmedabad, “unverified” beneficiaries exist in other districts—Bhavnagar, Banaskantha, Kutch, Surat, Rajkot, and Kheda. At the end it may be too little too late!
Jharkhand, Bihar PDS Scam
The needy get short changed in Jharkand and Bihar too! Leakages in Public Distribution System have come under sharp focus. The governments have had to act against PDS dealers. In Jharkhand, which has 25,445 PDS dealers for 2.63 crore families, licences of 865 dealers are in the dock– 297 suspended, 9 dealerships cancelled, 524 given show-cause notices and 44 face FIRs. The helpline hasn’t stopped ringing as though the State promised double ration of 70 kg rice in April, dealers weren’t giving the entire amount and some even confiscating ration cards. In Bihar, which had decided to give 5 kg rice and 1 kg pulses for three months as lockdown relief, so far 200 dealers’ licences are suspended. But there is the other side too: dealers complain the commission/compensation agreed on remains on paper! Clearly, the system needs transparency. There can be no justification of siphoning off the ration, specially not now. The needy must get their due come what may. Once the lockdown is lifted, system must be overhauled and not be left till another rainy day.
Maharashtra’s Police Shame
Palghar in Maharashtra should make the nation’s police force hang its head in shame. It was yet another shameful abdication of duty by the men in Khaki. They looked the other way when three men were lynched with stones, logs and axes in Gadchinchle by a mob of 400-odd villagers, belonging to a tribal community, on Thursday night. The two sadhus and their driver were travelling from Mumbai to Surat to attend a funeral, but villagers suspected them as thieves as rumours were floating that organ-harvesting gangs and child-lifters were on the prowl! Videos, which went viral, show the small police team failed to intervene, rather surrendered to mob violence! So far, 101 people have been arrested and cops suspended. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray needs to do more and ensure there is rule of law. To allow it to collapse will invite trouble. Memory of lynchings in UP, Rajasthan and Jharkhand over suspected illegal cattle trade is very much alive.
5 States & The Republic
The nation is watching. The big fight from within five States against Editor-in-Chief and founder of Republic TV channel, Arnab Goswami reached the Supreme Court on Friday last, with the latter urging quashing of FIRs filed against him, accusing him of “deliberately making inflammatory statements to invoke hatred” and using derogatory language against Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi. In his show on Palghar case, Goswami reportedly made personal remarks on Sonia, her family and Italian connection and that she would boast of getting sadhus lynched in a State where she formed government! Peeved rightly, Congress had its cadres react. In all 16 cases were registered in Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and J&K under IPC Sections 153 (a) (promoting enmity on grounds of religion, race, etc), 295 (a) (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief). Though the SC refused to quash the primary FIR, it passed directions that no coercive action be taken against him for 2 weeks, stayed any further FIRs filed and asked Mumbai police to give him and his office protection. He was permitted to move anticipatory bail before trial or High Courts. Expectedly, it will be a long drawn battle given the political agendas.