Seven Issues Raised by COVID
Issue: Nov-Dec 2020
Covid-19 has caught India, like the rest of the world, unawares. Given its geographical area, population and level of development, India has handled the pandemic remarkably well. Nevertheless, the pandemic provides an opportunity to identify measures to improve the state of preparedness for future crises. This paper underlines Constitutional and governance issues to prepare the country for such emergencies in the future. To ensure more accurate data on mortality rates and their attribution to the pandemic, the paper underlines the need to improve the Civil Registration System. Another issue relates to the confusion arising from the faulty detection of cases when Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) and RT-PCR tests do not provide consistent results. This has required the ICMR to issue a press release to reconfirm in the case of negative reports in symptomatic patients when RAT is used. The paper also emphasises the need to link fiscal transfers under the National Health Mission to performances in terms of specified deliverables by the States. Another issue is the need to amend the Constitution to place ‘Public Health’ in the Concurrent List to enable more significant role for the Union government in fighting pandemics like COVID-19. The paper also argues for the creation of a separate local body list in the Seventh Schedule and ensure legal consistency in the assignment across different levels of government in the country. Given the important role of the Union government, ‘Management of Disasters and Emergencies, natural or manmade’ should be an item included in the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule as recommended by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission. This enables congruency and cohesion in dealing with disasters between different levels of government.