After steering the first three phases of the coronavirus lockdown, the government has decentralised the fourth step by asking states to take charge of the details while implementing its guidelines for the next fortnight. At the same time,
the guidelines assign greater ownership of the Covid-19 response to states.
This is a marked departure from mid-April, early in Lockdown 2.0, when the Union Home Ministry forced the Kerala government to modify its guidelines that were at slight variance with the central template. Subsequently, Kerala, which has been managing the outbreak better that many other states, had to roll back its relaxation for non-AC barber shops, bookshops, plying of buses, etc.
Even during Lockdown 3.0, from May 4, the Home Ministry had defined Red, Orange and Green zones for each state and specified the restrictions for different activities. The earlier relaxations in the guidelines, however, did not give space for much economic activity — a point that Chief Ministers flagged in their interaction with the Prime Minister last Monday. Unlike the previous phases, the guidelines for Lockdown 4.0 don’t get into the minute details of activities that were earlier laid down by the Home Ministry: allowing business (IT, medical, essential activities, etc), specifying the nature of vehicles and seating (pillion, front seat), arrangements for travel, and type of shops (essential, non-essential, barber/salon, e-commerce) allowed to open within markets.
Instead, the Centre has come out with a clear list of prohibited/restricted activities, time period (7pm to 7 am) and location (containment zones) that will apply uniformly, while leaving details to the states to tailor as per their assessment.
Even the Health Ministry has pointed to “multi-factorial analysis” by states to decide on zoning. It has allowed states the flexibility to choose the “appropriate administrative unit” (districts, municipal corporations, sub-divisions or wards) to define the perimeters of Containment, Red, Orange and Green zones.
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This time, the Centre can claim to have listened to the states and granted them what they wanted. In return, the states will bear greater responsibility in their Covid-19 response while the Centre can retreat to the supplementary role of coordinating the efforts instead of steering them.
However, central officials acknowledged that such a move would also bring with it the risk of the outbreak being misreported at the local level to avail of the relaxations. “But with the mechanism and procedures established over the last two months, the local administration will be relatively more confident to report accurately and tackle the situation effectively. We have to trust them,” said a senior government functionary.
At the same time, officials said, the variable performance of states in their Covid-19 response may now get more pronounced. This, they said, would either expose or showcase their health infrastructure and administrative capacity.
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