Be it employment generation, economic growth or even pandemic management, the States and the Centre have to share the responsibilities
A second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is spreading at a much faster rate than the first one and data showed the worst ever daily spike in the country on Sunday. Certain sections have raised the demand of a nationwide lockdown but given last years’ experience, it is unlikely that the Centre will implement any such pan- India shut down.
The States are better- placed to evaluate the situation and take necessary steps accordingly. A complete lockdown situation will also jeopardise the economic recovery and given the fact that now we have vaccines against the deadly virus, a conscious call should be taken by the policymakers.
Our healthcare system lacks basic facilities and improving health infrastructure requires continuous efforts by the Centre and States. Building hospitals and research centres, setting up manufacturing facilities for medicine and medical equipment and so on, are time consuming processes and can’t be ramped up in a short span of time to fight the pandemic.
In the Indian federal structure, though the Centre and States share responsibilities in managing the healthcare system, the States have a larger role to play. Entry six of list II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution puts “public health and sanitation; hospitals and dispensaries” under the State List. Therefore, State Governments have a larger role to play in managing and maintaining the healthcare system during this pandemic.
However, certain aspects of healthcare like population control, family planning and medical education are part of the Concurrent List. Therefore, both the Centre and States are empowered to take decisions in these matters.
If someone blames only the Centre for the poor state of medical care in the country then s/he is passing the buck to the Prime Minister for something which is the joint responsibility of the Chief Ministers (CMs) and the Union Government together.
According to the October 2020 Reserve Bank of India (RBI) report on State finances, 12.1 per cent of overall expenditure towards social services has been spent on medical and public health alone by the State Governments in the Financial Year (FY) 2019-20. The health expenditure of States was `1,92,636 crore in the FY 2019-20. Therefore, the question should be asked from the CMs on what they have done to improve the situation.
Further, health research and collaboration with international bodies lies under the specific domain of the Centre and now we have an effective cure to the disease in the form of the Coronavirus vaccine. It is worthwhile to highlight that the COVID vaccine was mocked as the “BJP vaccine” and the Opposition was busy raising questions over the effectiveness of the vaccine which created confusion in the minds of the common man.
This was a time when the entire political leadership should have stood together and spoken in a common voice but alas! It can happen only in our vibrant democracy where someone can first question the vaccine itself and when the situation goes out of control then starts blaming others for what has happened.
The discussion on the COVID pandemic is incomplete without mentioning the ongoing State elections. Social media campaigns are targeted towards the BJP in general and Modi in particular as if the BJP was the only party which was doing election campaigning in West Bengal.
However, thankfully, this is one area where the Opposition showed some initiative to help the nation in the fight against the Coronavirus and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi decided not to hold any rally in West Bengal. As a matter of fact, his last rally in Bengal was on April 14. But the proclamation by the Gandhi scion came only after completing his campaign in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It would have been better if the political leadership of the Congress had taken this decision earlier.
However, the good thing about the Congress’ decision to stop campaigning in Bengal was that the States’ Chief Minister and even the BJP decided to limit the number of people at its rallies to 500 people, the next day.
But given the criticism the Centre is facing from the Opposition over the handling of the current pandemic, it seems that the federal structure of our country is highlighted by our politicians only when they have to take grants from the Centre or when petty political considerations compel them to do so, but there is complete silence when it comes to taking accountability.
Be it employment generation, economic growth or even pandemic management, the States and the Centre have to share these responsibilities equally. The CMs should understand that information travels very fast in this new-era and it would be difficult for inept policymakers to remain hidden from public scrutiny, whether it is at the Centre or in the States.
The writer is a chartered accountant and a public policy analyst. The views expressed are personal.