After several chief ministers demanded more authority in classifying zones in their jurisdiction during the video conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, the Centre now plans to involve states and seek their views in drawing up the list of green, orange and red zones.
It is also likely that entire districts will no longer be designated but smaller units. “We have asked states to share their inputs and views with us by May 15. These will be factored in the next list. In all probability zoning will not happen by districts but instead by smaller administrative units,” a senior government functionary who was present in the Monday meeting told The Indian Express.
Some states are still pushing for full freedom in zoning districts in their jurisdiction, with the Centre only deciding the broad principles. On Monday, while the PM-CMs meeting was still on, a fresh list was circulated, only to be recalled within minutes, said sources. Many states are also in favour of designating smaller areas — rather than entire districts — as red or orange zones. A similar suggestion was also received from experts, including from the World Health Organisation, sources said.
Meanwhile the total number of cases of Novel Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) went up by 3,604 to 70,746, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The total number of deaths, including the 87 over the last 24 hours, now stands at 2,206. A total of 22,454 people have recovered.
In the meeting on Monday, Punjab Chief minister Amarinder Singh was the first to forcefully raise this issue. As the principal authority responsible for containment operations on the field, states were best placed to decide the treatment each district required and the extent of relaxations that could be allowed, he said. In doing so, states would be able to balance the imperatives of resuming economic activities and disease control, he said. Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa (BJP), Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (AAP) and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot (Congress) too proposed substantially different zoning procedures, compared with what exists today.
When the existing list was first prepared on April 30, several states had voiced their displeasure. This included West Bengal which objected to the inclusion of two districts — which had not reported cases for 14 days before the drawing up of the list — in the red zone.
In her letter to state chief secretaries on April 30, Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan had explained the rationale for the classification of districts into red, orange and green zones.
“The districts were earlier designated as hotspots/ red-zones, orange zones and green zones primarily based on the cumulative cases reported and the doubling rate. Since recovery rates have gone up, the districts are now being designated across various zones duly broad-basing the criteria. This classification is multi-factorial and takes into consideration incidence of cases, doubling rate, extent of testing, and surveillance feedback to classify the districts. A district will be considered under Green Zone, if there are no confirmed cases so far or there is no reported case since last 21 days in the district,” Sudan wrote in her letter.
While making the point that the list was dynamic and would be revised every week, Sudan also said that states may designate additional districts to the orange and red zones.”However, states may not relax the zonal classification of districts classified as red/ orange as communicated by the Ministry,” she said. At that point, there were 130 districts in the red zone, 284 districts in orange and 319 districts in the green zone.
A state government functionary who was present in the Monday meeting with the Prime Minister said, “All states have asked for this flexibility since we know the ground realities better. One positive case in a major municipality or corporation will push the whole district into a red zone making it difficult for us to open shops, offices and businesses. May be a ward of that municipal area is enough to contain it. Except in containment zones which require strict controls, states should have the freedom to prescribe restrictions based on the specific circumstances.”