The fight against the first phase of the pandemic last year had been marked by the coordination between the Centre and the State Governments. Last year, as the pandemic gripped the nation, various political parties rose above political and ideological differences and participated in evolving strategies that helped in catering to the need for critical resources like healthcare centres, testing kits, ventilators and PPEs, and for devising the means for facilitating contact tracing protocols.
This also led to swiftly sorting out the differences of opinion over designating containment zones or methods to count the Covid-infected. However, unfortunately, such a partnership between the Centre and the State Governments, the ruling and the opposition parties has been out of place in the second phase of the pandemic mostly in the past three months. The Centre and some Opposition-ruled States have been divided over most of the crucial issues like vaccine allocation, oxygen shortages and this has also created disgruntlement among Chief Ministers, who have complained of not been given a proper hearing at the meetings with the Prime Minister.
While West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has called Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with the CMs as a “one-way humiliation”, the Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren said, describing his telephonic conversation with the PM, as “the PM only spoke his mind”. On the other hand, the BJP has levelled charges against the West Bengal CM of “politicising the meeting”. However, it’s not time for playing adversarial politics; rather TMC and BJP should keep aside their differences, which are quite obvious keeping in view the nature of politics in West Bengal.
PM Modi should act upon what he and several Union Ministers have been reiterating time and again that there is a need for cooperation between the Centre and the States or cooperative federalism to fight against the virus.
Cooperative federalism, in fact, is an important part of our democratic design which is envisaged between Articles 245 and 263 of the Indian Constitution. Under these provisions of the Constitution, the power between the Centre and the State is specifically demarcated into legislative, administrative and financial functions.
The Constitutional concept of cooperative federalism is further emboldened by Article 131 of the Constitution; and under this provision, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction to adjudicate upon any matter of dispute between the States or between the Union and the States.
And apart from the Centre-State disputes discussed above, the other most contemporary example of the Centre-State dispute is regarding the implementation of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, which was invoked in light of the Covid-19 pandemic last year and also this year. This Act, though necessary, has caused a lot of discontent among the States as with invoking the Act, the Central guidelines become binding on them despite the fact that public health is a State matter and the Parliament cannot legislate over it.
However, in between such bickering between the Centre and the State Governments, if experts are to be believed it is very much important to flatten the curve immediately because the virus is continuing to presentnew challenges this year, like the black fungus disease.
And what is further worrying is the shortage of amphotericin B, which is crucial in the fight against the fungal infection. And for ensuring that, the supplies are put in place. It is important for the Centre and the States to work together through optimising cooperative federalism.
The Prime Minister, while having a meeting with various States’ officials last Thursday, spoke about the importance of robust data and solid analyses to fight the mutating virus. As such, he urged officials at the district level to gather information on the spread of the virus amongst various age groups, including the children and the youths.
Because according to the Prime Minister, such information and knowledge will become a crucial weapon to fight the pandemic. And not only that, it is also important to start a process of continuous conversations amongst the States and between the Centre and the States which will further augment our strategies to efficiently fight the virus within a shorter period of time without creating any further damage to the economy and the precious human lives as a whole.
(The writer is a lawyer and public policy expert and a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law & Media Studies at the School of Mass Communication, KIIT University. He can be reached at email@example.com.)