The World facing the biological disaster by the disease popularly known as COVID-19 due to the Coronavirus has not left India where the number of affected people has crossed 1 lakh (100,000). However, 33 percent of the total number of affected people are from Maharashtra and 20 percent of the total Indian population affected is in Mumbai. COVID-19 is the first pan-India biological disaster being handled by the legal and constitutional institutions of the country. The current lockdown has been imposed under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DM Act). Though the Constitution of India is silent on the subject ‘disaster’, the legal basis of the DM Act, is entry 23, Concurrent List of the Constitution “Social security and social insurance”. Entry 29, Concurrent List “Prevention of the extension from one State to another of infectious or contagious diseases or pests affecting men, animals or plants,” can also be used for specific lawmaking. Apart from the DM Act, The Centre invoked provisions of the Epidemic Act, 1897 to combat the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in the country
The question arises as to:
- Whether it’s a failure on the part of the Government/Ministries of the State?
- Whether it was impossible to contain the spread of Coronavirus in the State
- Who can be held responsible, if any, for the breakdown of the disaster?
- Whether it’s too late in the day to rise and stop the epidemic?
It would be appropriate to understand that such disasters like COVID-19 are meant to be controlled in a planned manner and the planning on the local level is the total responsibility of the State Government even if one has to go as per law. The law governing such an epidemic or disaster is the “Disaster Management Act, 2005”.
When the sheer ineptitude and stubbornness of the government endangers the safety of people, it becomes important to seek accountability. Asking questions is a responsibility.
India had its first Coronavirus case in January 2020 when three students returned home in Kerala from the Chinese COVID-19 epicenter, Wuhan. Then there was a hiatus. India detected its first regular novel Coronavirus cases on March 2 in Delhi and Hyderabad. Maharashtra got its first cases on March 9 in Pune. A couple had returned from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), already battling COVID-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, only two days after Maharashtra recorded its first cases.
Over 42,000 international travelers land in Mumbai every day. The first few cases had come to Maharashtra from the UAE. Despite this, the screening of passengers coming from UAE or some other Coronavirus-hit countries did not begin till the third week of March, only days before India halted flight operations on March 22.
This clearly goes to show that the Public Health and Family Welfare Minister of Maharashtra, Shri Rajesh Tope, who was otherwise duty-bound to take steps in order to save the life of the people of the State did not take any preventive steps but waited for others including the Union Government to show the way. In our federal structure of governance, it is the duty of the State Government to ensure to provide a safe and secure environment for the people of the State and those traveling to the State. Mumbai is the financial capital of the country and as such the number of foreign travelers are very high, the Ministry of Public Health and Family Welfare ought to have risen to the alarm with the case of the affected person traveling from abroad but making it mandatory screening of passengers reaching Mumbai from abroad.
Even after a rise in the number of the Coronavirus affected persons in Maharashtra, the Home Minister, Shri Anil Deshmukh failed in his role as the lockdown declared by the Central Government was not implemented in its letter and spirit. At least both these limbs of the State Government miserably failed in its duties when the slums of Dharavi and Govandi (both in Mumbai) got cases, which required strict compliance of lockdown as both the slums are densely populated. The rough estimates would indicate that if proper protocols were to be followed for these two slums, it would have required around 10 lakh tests in these areas of Mumbai only, but the State Government looked unprepared to handle the situation and both these Ministries looked like vagabonds. Even today the situation is such that these two limbs of the State Government i.e. Health and Home are complete failure with no vision or plan.
Does it raise very important questions such as has the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Govt. pulled up the Home Minister Anil Deshmukh in the wake of his unending failures? Is Mumbai entirely outsourced to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)? Is the Chief Minister (CM) being updated at all by the health minister? Moreover, how many of the State Ministers have visited the districts that are assigned to them as Guardian Ministers or have they treated the lockdown as a holiday?
Another NCP legislator Shri Rajendra Shingne, who is the Minister of Food and Drug Administration has been a failure in performing his duty. It was this ministry to manage and arrange the medicine, PPE kits, etc. for proper check-up and screening of people suspected to be affected by Coronavirus.
The conditions of hospitals in Maharashtra to serve the COVID-19 affected patients are another reason for the spread of the Coronavirus. So far close to 500 medical staff/ workers including doctors have tested positive for COVID-19 and around 1000 medical workers had to be quarantined and around 20 hospitals had to be fully or partially closed. Close to 1300 police personnel have been affected by COVID-19. This clearly shows the unpreparedness of the Government in providing safety gear to the medical workers and police personnel.
It seems that the Maharashtra Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP coalition government failed to act together. The entire State and especially Mumbai, the capital city of the State is under grave risk of the Coronavirus epidemic. It seems that NCP, a key player in the Maharashtra Government has misused its numbers to restrain the CM in pulling up Health and Home Ministries, which are held by NCP legislators. Even at the CM level, Shri Ajit Pawar is holding as Dy. CM to check the rein of the CM. The Chief Minister seems to be surrounded by NCP legislators holding key Ministries and unable to perform in its own way and in turn, is facing the anger of the people. NCP has been never been a clear player in politics and its history has been quite clear on this behalf. NCP seems to be playing with its legion, besmeared with big scams, and bringing bad name for first-timer Chief Minister.
Shri Dilip Walse Patila another NCP legislator and Minister of State Excise and Labour failed in the performance of his duty. Today when the migrant laborers have returned to their home state, Maharashtra is short of workers in areas where the lockdown has been relaxed to some extent. Another question arises as to what happens when the lockdown is lifted totally, the city of Mumbai, the financial capital, where factories, shops, establishments have been served by the migrant laborers. The government was quick in declaring that the respective States should ensure the travel of migrant laborers to their respective States. The Labour Ministry ought to have ensured to speak to the Union Leaders to pacify them that the migrant labor would be ensured food and other relief as required from time to time during the lockdown as they are the pillars of the industries, factories, shops and other establishments in the State.
The lockdown has been completely ineffective in the State due to ineptitude of the NCP-led Government. Some of the decisions and incidents have proved the ineffectiveness of the State Government to handle the present crisis. Those incidents clearly show that the NCP-led Government has little or no knowledge of what their Home Minister or other Cabinet Ministers are up to.
It must be borne in mind that the financial capital Mumbai alone accounts for slightly more than 6.16 percent of India’s economy contributing 10 percent of factory employment, 30 percent of income tax collections, 60 percent of customs duty collections, 20 percent of central excise tax collections, 40 percent of foreign trade and Rs.40,000 crores (US$10 billion) in corporate taxes to the Indian economy.
The present crisis raises a few very important questions if a situation like this continues then
- can offices open in Mumbai?
- can businesses be restored?
- will taxes which are the lifeline of any govt still come? How will the Country survive this shortfall?
- can we allow more and more people to die because of the lax attitude of Govt?
- How many should die before the Centre should act?
These questions are very pivotal.
The NCP-led Government has failed to handle the Coronavirus situation in Maharashtra, so, it is important that the central government brings in the Army to handle Maharashtra and Particularly Mumbai and Pune and the slums of Dharavi and Govandi in Mumbai. There seems to be no medical preparedness by the State Govt. Most hospitals chosen to treat COVID-19 patients were ill-prepared for it. The COVID-19 sections in the hospitals required foolproof segregation, which did not happen. Instead of getting all or most of COVID-19 patients under one roof or two, they were scattered across the city. This explains why one of the largest numbers of hospitals shut due to COVID-19 as well as a large number of infected medical professionals is in Mumbai. Despite the availability of adequate PPEs in Mumbai, the government has been unable to ensure that the PPEs reach the hospitals. Neither has it been able to provide proper security in COVID-19 hospitals. The testing rate in the State has been very low despite there being such a huge outbreak of cases in the State which again strengthens the point that the State Government has completely failed in its Constitutional obligation and therefore should be dissolved. If the cases continue to rise like the present time, it would become impossible to contain the virus in the State. Life of crores of people are at risk and every possible effort should be made to save every life. Therefore, immediate steps should be taken by the Central Government to contain further spread of the virus in the State. Sheer ineptitude and stubbornness of the Government has endangered the safety of people of the state which needs to be saved at every possible cost.
It may be noted that a Central Advisory passed under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 — the sole law to deal with the novel Coronavirus outbreak has to be treated as “direction” by states under Article 256 of the Constitution of India.
If a state government wilfully disobeys the directives of the Central Government, punitive action, can be taken by the Centre under Article 356 of the Constitution? It is a fact that the NCP-led Government has failed to abide by the directions of the Centre issued under the Epidemic Act. It is relevant to note that the Centre has issued various guidelines and directions to the State to fight the virus which has put lives and livelihood of crores of people on stake. In such an unprecedented and emergency situation, the directives of Centre should have been followed by the NCP-led Government which has brazenly not been followed which makes it a fit case for the President to invoke the provisions of Article 356.
The NCP-led State Government has further failed to comply with the directions issued by the Centre under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) under the DM Act which is the nodal central body for coordinating disaster management, with the Prime Minister as its Chairperson has laid down certain policies, plans and guidelines for the management of the present disaster which have sadly been willfully neglected by the NCP-led government which has resulted to the present disastrous crisis in the State. The present national lockdown was imposed under DM Act as per Order dated 24-03-2020 of NDMA ‘to take measures for ensuring social distancing so as to prevent the spread of COVID 19. Additional guidelines were issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, is the Ministry having Administrative control of Disaster Management. However, the NCP-led Government has completely failed to effectively impose the lockdown in the State thereby failing to prevent the spread of the virus in the State. Therefore, the NCP-led Government has failed to fulfill its Constitutional obligations.
Because of the collapse of the economic capital of India we are virtually at the doors of an economic emergency, the NCP-led government has miserably failed the mandate of the state. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in S. R. Bommai v. Union of India; (1994)3 SCC1 held that where a constitutional direction of the Central government is disregarded by the state government or Physical breakdown where the government wilfully refuses to discharge its constitutional obligations endangering the security of the state, the imposition of President’s Rule would be proper. Therefore, it is important and most relevant to avert this crisis the principles of Article 356 should be applied and President using his powers should dissolve the Legislative Assembly of Maharashtra and President Rule should be applied in the State.
It is crystal clear that the State Government has failed to adhere to the communications of the Central Government in true letter and spirit which has left thousands to die and therefore, the State Government has failed to fulfill its obligation under the Constitution to protect the health and life of the citizens and accordingly this is a fit case to invoke the provisions of Article 356 by the President.