Why The Communist Kerala Government May Have Committed A Faux Pas By Declaring Coronavirus Epidemic A ‘State Calamity’

M R Subramani

Feb 04, 2020, 05:18 PM | Updated 01:48 AM IST

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan
  • By declaring the coronavirus epidemic a ‘state calamity’, which incidentally is unconstitutional, the cash-strapped Communist regime is trying to legitimise the use of funds allocated under the State Disaster Response Fund, to mitigate the problem.
  • With a third person being detected with coronavirus in Kerala on Monday (3 February), the Kerala Government has declared the epidemic as a “state calamity”.

    According to reports, over 2,000 people in the State are under surveillance in hospitals and at homes for any symptoms of coronavirus in them.

    Besides among those who have come from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the epidemic broke out and quarantined in New Delhi, 115 are from Kerala.

    Reports also say that over 80 persons had been in touch with the three who contracted coronavirus from Wuhan. These persons have now been told not to travel outside without government permission.

    The declaration of “state calamity” has its own ramifications. One, it will now come under the State Disaster Management Authority, headed by the State Chief Secretary who will coordinate efforts to tackle the epidemic.

    This gives the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) government ruled by Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala the leeway to utilise the State Disaster Response Fund. It will also empower the police to arrest those refusing treatment, like the second person detected with the symptoms, did.

    Those campaigning against treatment and defying the State orders on the protocol can also be arrested. Rumour mongers and those spreading panic could also be detained.

    However, the moot point is whether the Vijayan government is correct in declaring the epidemic as “state calamity”. The views on this are that the move of the Communist-ruled government is more than what meets the eye.

    The National Disaster Management Act 2005 does not have any provision to declare an epidemic as “state calamity”.

    Nor does the National Disaster Management Plan 2012.

    According to the Central Government submission in the Kerala High Court, there are no provisions in the Constitution or manuals to declare “calamity” over a disaster.

    Disasters are categorised as L1, L2 and L3 based on the situation with L3 being catastrophic. A national or state calamity is just usage of general parlance.

    Even the worst floods that Kerala faced in 2018 were not declared as “national calamity” for these very reasons but under L3 which is “catastrophe”.

    The Centre, in its submission to the High Court, was responding to a petition questioning why the floods had not been declared a calamity.

    The Kerala State Disaster Management Policy 2010 stipulates that disasters be classified as L0, L1, L2 and L3.

    In 2018, when there was an outbreak of Nipah virus in Kerala, it was not declared as a “state calamity”. This was despite the virus claiming the lives of 15 persons. Then, over 2,000 persons were quarantined to see if they developed any symptoms.

    When facts are such, why has the Kerala government acted in haste in declaring this as a “state calamity”, when it should have only classified it under the disaster management policy that has remained unchanged for nearly 10 years now.

    There can be two reasons why the Kerala government acted with such haste. One is that the Communist government has no funds to take measures under ordinary circumstances.

    Hence, by declaring a “state calamity”, it has given itself the powers to draw money from the State Disaster Response Fund.

    Two, the State government could be toying with the idea to utilise the money in the State Disaster Response Fund for general purposes.

    One hopes the Vijayan government has declared coronavirus as “State calamity” to get the much-needed funds to initiate measures to control the epidemic.

    But the general view is that the State Government could have amended at least its plan to make such a declaration and then announce it instead of committing a technical faux pas.

    M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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