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Transport to eateries, exit plans of Govt, Kerala different

Under the Disaster Management Act, states are bound by guidelines issued by the Centre — while they have the liberty to make lockdown measures stricter, states can’t be seen as diluting the measures suggested by the Centre.

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary , Shaju Philip | New Delhi/thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: April 19, 2020 7:47:03 am
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THE guidelines drawn up by Kerala, one of the first states to come out with a specific plan for Phase 2 of the lockdown, seem to be at variance with the national guidelines issued by the Centre on April 15.

Sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs said some elements of Kerala’s guidelines — including the way the state wants to organise containment zones and hotspots, and give relaxations to certain service sectors, and use private and public transport — could be seen as a dilution of the Centre’s guidelines and emerge as a point of dispute.

Under the Disaster Management Act, states are bound by guidelines issued by the Centre — while they have the liberty to make lockdown measures stricter, states can’t be seen as diluting the measures suggested by the Centre.

“We have examined the guidelines issued by the state vis a vis those issued by the Centre. No state can dilute prohibitions stipulated by the Centre. But some of the relaxations given by Kerala are in violation of this and cannot be allowed,” a home ministry official said.

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Kerala Chief Secretary Tom Jose, however, insisted the state’s guidelines do not clash with those of the Centre. “We have discussed with the home secretary and the joint secretary of the MHA. Some minor changes will not dilute the spirit of the Centre’s order. That every state can do and they have also agreed to it,’’ he said.

Some of Kerala’s guidelines that are at odds with the Centre’s:

* Contrary to the Centre’s guidelines that all public transport, barring those engaged in carrying healthcare workers or essential services, would be prohibited, Kerala has banned only “inter-district and inter-state” public transport. This would mean plying of public transport within a district (not falling in the Red Zone of COVID containment) would be permitted.

In fact, the guidelines have gone on to specify that “bus travel for short distance within a city or town may be permitted subject to strict discipline”, which includes no standing passengers, mandatory wearing of masks, availability of hand sanitisers, not more than 60 km of travel, and social distancing inside the bus.

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Jose, however, said permitting bus travel does not mean throwing it open for use to the general public. “If we have to allow some commercial establishments and government offices to work, as per the Centre’s stipulation that 33 per cent of office staff can work, we will need some transport as all of them may not have private vehicles to reach their offices. In such situations, the heads of establishments can hire buses to transport their workers/staff. A clarification will be given.’’

* The state guidelines have also allowed many commercial activities that do not find mention in the Centre’s guidelines.

In non-hotspot areas, the state guidelines allow services of domestic helps, opening of barber shops (non-AC and without cosmetic and beauty therapies), dine-in restaurants (till 7 pm), and local workshops, repair shops for electrical/electronic gadgets and machines. None of these find any mention in national guidelines. In fact, dine-in restaurants and domestic helps are understood to be prohibited.

When asked about workshops and repair shops, the Chief Secretary said the state’s guidelines were meant only for the self-employed. “Some changes have been made to carry on daily life,” he said.

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* In these zones, movement of private vehicles could emerge as another point of dispute. The state has allowed private vehicles under an odd-even scheme. This exemption can be further waived for “critical and emergency operations” and for women drivers, the state rules said. Again, they do not apply to women drivers. This would mean those driving can do so irrespective of whether they are going for a medical emergency or for purchase of essentials. This has not been suggested or permitted in the national guidelines.

* The state guidelines further relax national guidelines by allowing two passengers besides the driver in a four-wheeler. They also allow a pillion rider on a bike if he is a family member of the driver. The Centre’s guidelines allow only one passenger besides the driver in a car and only the driver on bikes.

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Jose said the two-wheeler relaxation is only for family members. “It’s not meant for strangers. We have made a minor change considering circumstances in which a husband may have to drop a wife off at a place of work or office,” he said.

On allowing three persons, including driver, in four-wheelers, the chief secretary said he would look into that condition again.

* In Green Zones, which include Kottayam and Idukki districts, where no cases of COVID-19 have been detected in the state, resumption of normal life, barring a few exceptions, have been stipulated by the Kerala government. The guidelines say barring operation of flights, trains, inter-district public transport, metro rail, social/political/religious gatherings and assembly spots such as cinema halls, shopping complexes, gym, swimming pools and bars, everything is to be allowed.

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