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Implication of Covid-19 on the Federal Structure of India

April 25, 2020

COVID-19 has widely spread throughout the world and has vastly dismantled the society. It has victimized majority of nations and has proved to be a bane for the whole mankind. Despite numerous global efforts the government is not able to prevent the spread of coronavirus which has already infected more than 18,00,000 patients throughout the world. India has also been vastly victimized by this epidemic. Indeed the Indian Government has taken very viable step to fight against the coronavirus pandemic when the no. of corona infected were around 600.  

Lockdown has been one of the significant steps for preventing this epidemic to settle its foot in disintegration of the society. Prime Minister without consultation with the states imposed Lockdown throughout the nation, though the step was taken for the national/ societal interest only. With the blend of numerous laws, regulations and orders, a nation-wide lockdown has been currently imposed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. A blanket lockdown has been imposed on March 24, 2020 by Hon’ble Prime Minister throughout the nation by invoking Disaster Management Act, 2005 (hereafter, DM Act, 2005).[1] Thereafter, extensive guidelines were laid down to the states. Prior to the imposition of lockdown under DM Act, 2005, numerous State Government had invoked Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 (hereafter, ED Act, 1997) to take preventive measures and to combat with this pandemic.[2] Irrefutably, public order and public health are the subject matter of States as enumerated under Constitution of India but the centre’s exercise over DM Act, 2005 surpassed the states and had first time issued direction of such magnitude.[3]

[1] Kevin James, Covid-19 and the Need for Clear Centre-State Roles Blogs,  April 3, 2020; See at :- https://vidhilegalpolicy.in/2020/04/03/covid-19-and-the-need-for-clear-centre-state-roles/
[2] Id.
[3] Arpan Chaturvedi, The Legal Process Behind The 21- Day National Lockdown Order, Bloomberg Quint; See:- https://www.bloombergquint.com/coronavirus-outbreak/is-the-central-government-coronavirus-lockdown-order-constitutionally-valid.

This shows a positive friction in the existing framework in terms of handling a crisis consisting of Covid-19 because the Centre and States do no longer appear working in a synchronised manner.  States have had to take a backseat in dealing with a public health emergency that, notwithstanding having countrywide ramifications, varies from region to location. The fragmented manner in which these felony provisions were invoked indicates ambiguity in how the Centre and States have interpreted their roles below the Constitution because it stands. The present piece argues about the principled and constitutionally grounded interpretation of the roles and responsibilities of numerous stages of government.[4]

Undeniably DM Act, 2005 imposes duty on the states to adhere all the directions provided under National Disaster Management Act as provided under Section 38 of DM Act, 2005. But the counter piece which arises is Health & Policing falls within the subject matter of the State List and if the state are taking an efficient initiative to combat the epidemic, then why we are regarding DM Act as an absolute liberty of the State to combat COVID-19 by superseding state’s schemes. If under the veil of DM Act, 2005 centre has an absolute power to exercise its functions without consultation and coordination with the states, So does the federalism truly exist? Our Constitution has gifted us with such a distinctive character i.e. federalism, the multi-governmental structure shall benefit the society by taking the advantage of such distinct character by ensuring coordination amongst centre-state relations so that the surfacing crisis at local & regional level can also be dealt cautiously with the coordination with the lower tier government.

[4] Geetika Srivastava, To fight a pandemic like Covid-19, India needs overarching healthcare laws; See:- https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/to-fight-a-pandemic-like-covid-19-india-needs-overarching-healthcare-laws-120032201137_1.html.

Aparna Singh, Assistant Professor, Unitedworld School of Law (UWSL)

Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.

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