Acts of overreach by the office of the Lieutenant-Governor in Delhi have invited serious questions in the past, but this time LG Anil Baijal has done the right thing in overruling a decision of the Arvind Kejriwal government. While opening Delhi’s borders, the Kejriwal government had simultaneously restricted access to private and public hospitals in its jurisdiction to patients who can show proof of residence in the capital. In anticipation of an influx of patients in search of reliable treatment even as the incidence of COVID-19 rises in the city, only oncology, transplants, neurosurgery and medico-legal cases, it said, would be admitted to these facilities irrespective of home address, while central government institutions would be exempt. Now that LG Baijal has ordered access to hospitals without discrimination, it is hoped that this will not spark off another contest between the two seats of power. The chief minister must withdraw. In firewalling medical resources, he reportedly relied upon the recommendation of an expert committee and feedback from 7.5 lakh citizens. But that is passing the buck for an un-generous and legally dubious executive decision. Elected representatives swear allegiance to the Constitution, and thereby to the Union of India, and not to their constituents alone. Their duty is to all Indians and if the role of political office were not framed thus, federalism and even citizenship would lose something that is vital to their meaning.
Initially, the pandemic did provoke governments to seal borders against infection. But now that the world must learn to live with the virus, a consensus for openness is developing. No nation, or no state, can afford to be an island in this crisis. Administrations must collaborate for common safety, since laxity in one airport can deliver the virus thousands of miles away. States are sharing information and best practices, experts from Delhi have helped Gujarat, doctors and nurses from Kerala have travelled to work in Mumbai, the pandemic is nudging states to render cooperation and aid to each other, not sequester medical resources for their own people.
A small-minded rejection of traffic across state borders, however, has been a depressing feature of the governmental response to the pandemic. Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka had, initially, refused to accept migrant workers coming back on trains from Maharashtra. Closure of Delhi’s borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh disrupted access to health services across the National Capital Region. As the capital, Delhi needs to — it can afford to — set an example in large-heartedness in a time of crisis for the entire nation. Sure, there are glaring gaps in hospital inventory as the COVID caseload surges but putting up walls is no prescription. For a party and a government that put up a spirited counter to the exclusionary National Register for Citizens and took pride in showcasing its mohalla clinics across the city, this idea of Delhi for only those who live here is wrong and indefensible.
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