Coronavirus (COVID-19): Arguing that it is not known whether the government has prepared or activated a national plan to deal with the coronavirus outbreak as mandated by the Disaster Management Act of 2005, Congress leader and former Law Minister Kapil Sibal on Wednesday said it is time for Supreme Court to step in and ask the government to disclose what it has done under the Act.
In the absence of a plan, he said there is confusion and ad hocism.
“There is no national plan in place under the provisions of the National Disaster Management Act. The Prime Minister must disclose to the nation what is that plan? How mitigation measures are being taken? Which institutional mechanisms have been put in place? What are the recommendations of the National Executive Committee pursuant to the opinion of the experts to the authority and what is the data available with the government on all this?” Sibal said in an interview to The Indian Express.
He said the government does not even know how many people are stranded in different parts of the country.
“There are no state plans in place, there are no district plans in place. The mere announcement of the Prime Minister to say that people must sacrifice.people will sacrifice provided you provide them with livelihood. People can’t sacrifice in a vacuum. They are stranded, students are stranded in Kota. People are now coming on to the streets in Surat and in Bandra. we hear horrendous, heart-rending stories about people going without food and they’re desperate to go back to their families. The address of the Prime Minister is not going to resolve all those issues. Not words but action on the ground is what will resolve issues,” he said.
He said the preparation of the government could be gauged by the fact that senior officials were quoted as saying in the second week of March that the epidemic is not a health emergency. “And then on March 24, without consultation with the state governments, the PM announced a national lockdown.”
“I don’t think they were prepared for it. After all, they did not screen anybody from flights that were coming from other parts of the world. They only stopped the flights from China.,” Sibal said.
He said the Disaster Management Act overrides all other legislation and the “steps of the government in relation to Coronavirus are determined by the contours of a national plan under this Act alone”.
“So far in all the addresses that the Prime Minister has given, he has not touched upon any of this. If they have a plan, I don’t know where it is…it’s not in the public domain.there is criticism because there is no level of preparation and that (preparation) will only happen if there is a plan. That can only happen if data (is) collected… data has to be collected at the district, state and the national level.”
“Therefore, you have to take state governments into confidence. there has to be state plan, local district plans, all that is absent, as far as we know. That is why all this confusion and ad hocism and the government has been caught napping,” he said.
He said it is time for the Supreme Court to intervene. “It is in the history of this court to take up matters of great significance suo motu, why not this? They should not even wait for a PIL . this is one situation where the court must jettison all other matters and address this national emergency by ensuring that the government discloses to the court what it has done under this Act and what plan is there in place?”