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Events that have unfolded over the past few days with regard to Centre-State relations in the fight against COVID 19 have raised some human questions. I will steer clear of any opinion on constitutional provisions or policy as I am not an expert on these matters. Therefore, I will restrict myself to basic school-level facts. The Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution divides the responsibilities of the Centre and States into three lists, namely, the Union List, the State List and the Concurrent List. As the names suggest, the Centre and the States are charged with responsibilities laid down in the Union and State lists respectively including lawmaking on those subjects. The Concurrent List empowers both the Centre and the States to execute functions and enact legislation in respect of the listed functions. It therefore goes without saying that close coordination between the Centre and the States is critical to the effective working of our democracy.


Issues of public order (other than use of armed forces of the Union), public health and sanitation, hospitals and dispensaries, burials and burial grounds, cremation and cremation grounds, state public services and all other functions that ordinarily concern the handling of any epidemic fall clearly in the State List. Therefore, under normal conditions, the State is fully empowered to handle such eventualities. However, the COVID 19 situation is not normal and has necessitated invoking of the National Disaster Management Act 2005 for the first time since the Act came into being. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is headed by the Prime Minister and invocation of the Act empowers the Centre to take whatever action it deems fit to deal with a disaster situation. The visits of the Inter-ministerial Central Teams (IMCT) to certain severely COVID- affected states may be seen in this backdrop.

The State Government, led by a popularly elected Chief Minister, is still squarely responsible for delivering results on ground. The Centre can do its bit in terms of funding, advice, oversight and support of different kinds but the duty and responsibility of the State Government cannot be taken away from them. My point in writing this piece is to focus attention to human aspects that govern Centre-State relations and eventually impact lives and livelihood. These include transparency, honesty, mutual trust, even handedness, rising above narrow considerations, respecting the law and concern for humanity. The intelligent reader will quite easily understand why public spectacles took place over one of the IMCT visits. This is a nation-wide emergency. Individuals and parties that rise above narrow ends will emerge stronger when this is over. The truth may be more complicated than what is reported in the media but all I know is that it takes two sides to misunderstand each other and two parties to fight.

Those in trouble need assistance and must seek help without hesitation. Helping others calls for large-heartedness and grace on the part of the giver, humility and gratitude on the part of the seeker and most importantly, suppression of ego on both sides in deference to the common good. These apply not only to individuals but to every organisation and entity including governments. Otherwise, HELP is just a four-letter word.

25 Apr 20

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