COVID 19: Is PM Modi even listening to the Chief Ministers?
From ferocious Mamata Banerjee to polite Chief Ministers such as Hemant Soren many have remained critical of the Narendra Modi government’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. PM Modi is set to hold another meeting of all Chief Ministers tomorrow to take a call on extension of the nationwide lockdown. But is he even listening to the CMs?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold the third all state chief ministers COVID-19 meeting through video conferencing on April 11. During this meeting a consensus is likely to be built on whether India would extend its nationwide lockdown.
It also means that the heads of the state governments would share vital inputs on the containment measures being taken in their respective states and what their expectations are from the Modi government.
PM Modi has already held two such meetings with the state CMs – on March 20 and April 2. So far, when it comes to coordination with the state governments, the Centre wants us to believe “Sab Changa Si (all is well)”. However, signals coming from the states reveal a different story. At least when it comes to the non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governed states.
The West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had publically expressed her critical views about the Centre and PM Modi’s all-states CMs’ meeting. The Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, during an AICC press conference, held the Centre responsible for the spread of coronavirus in India. Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren had said, despite being a poor state, they have got less assistance from the Centre.
The state governments are screaming for help when it comes to the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the frontline healthcare warriors and testing kits. The demand for the release of funds and better financial packages for state government has started to become insistent as well. However, the Centre is yet to acknowledge or address the situation.
Two Chief Ministers, Bhupesh Baghel and Hemant Soren, have not even had an opportunity to speak during the past two all CMs meetings, let alone raise their concerns or share information on how their states are coping with the coronavirus outbreak.
CM Baghel had alleged that the Centre didn’t consult the Chief Ministers before imposing the nationwide lockdown. “Government of India had not consulted the state. There was no communication or not even a phone call was made. Prime Minister had not spoken to the Chief Minister,” highly placed sources in the Chhattisgarh government told Asiaville.
Baghel’s discontent with the Centre stems from two reasons.
In the past two meetings with PM Modi, he was not given an opportunity to speak. “We were in listening mode. No time was allotted to Chhattisgarh (in the last two meetings with PM Modi),” sources said. He however added that it possibly because other states were registering a much higher number of COVID-19 positive cases.
Ever since the announcement of the nationwide lockdown, CM Baghel has written three letters to PM Modi. “Despite three letters, he (PM Modi) has not responded to the Chhattisgarh CM,” the sources, on condition of anonymity, said.
Asiaville has accessed the three letters written by CM Baghel to PM Modi. In the first letter, the senior Congress leader and Chhattisgarh CM had put forward three demands, including the transfer of Rs 1,000 for MNREGA and unorganized sector workers in their accounts for the next three months. In the letter dated April 1, he had demanded the release of Rs 1,016 crores for MNERGA related payments. In the last communication on April -5, CM Baghel expressed his views against removing the lockdown.
It is important to note that Chhattisgarh is among the states which have registered the least COVID-19 positive cases so far. Of the 10 positive cases reported in the state, nine have been cured. This is possibly because the state government has been on its toes ever since the first COVID-19 positive case was reported on March 18.
Another state which acted early to contain the spread of coronavirus, Jharkhand, has a similar story to share. “Chief Minister Hemant Soren and Health Minister Banna Gupta have attended the meeting held by PM Modi. Despite the fact that time was allotted to us, CM Hemant Soren was not given an opportunity to speak,” sources in the Jharkhand government said.
The Jharkhand CM himself has said that the tribal-state was getting less assistance from the Centre. According to the Union Health Ministry, 13 COVID positive cases were reported in the state of which one patient has died.
The sources in the Jharkhand health ministry pointed out why the voice of CM Soren needs to be heard on an urgent basis. Though Jharkhand government had acted early, it is reeling under pressure due to lack of medical infrastructure and equipment such as PPE and testing kits.
“We had demanded 75,500 PPE kits from the Centre but we received only 9349 so far,” sources said. “Not only doctors but any frontline medical staff who enter the COVID-19 wards cannot reuse the PPEs. Hence, there is need for more PPEs and more VTM (testing kits).”
Jharkhand had demanded 26,700 VTM testing kits but has been provided with only 4,700 kits so far.
What is of greater concern is that the state with a 3.3 crore population has only two testing centres – one in Ranchi and the other in Jamshedpur. The request for approving more testing centres in the state is still pending with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
“Our requests for approval of one more lab in Ranchi and one in Dhanbad are pending with the ICMR. We have been taking up the issue of lack of PPEs and testing kits with them as well,” the state health ministry sources said.
Jharkhand’s premier health institution RIIMS alone is in need of at least 30 ventilators - request for which has been pending with the Centre.
The states might have been able to contain the spread of the coronavirus but how will they fight the war against the global pandemic without the basic infrastructure?
“They (medical staff) are working with full commitment but how do we justify the lack of PPEs, testing kits and ventilators,” the source said, adding that it is the state government which has to face the frontline medical staff.
Like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand too is hopeful that the April 11 meeting doesn’t end up like the past two meetings. And, that its Chief Minister will be given an opportunity to raise the state’s concerns and demands during the meeting with the PM.
Notably, West Bengal CM Banerjee had declined to attend the second all CMs meeting hosted on April 2 as the state was not allotted time to speak. Hence, she chose to send her Chief Secretary Rajiv Sinha.
Sources said, CM Banerjee was irked by the fact that the state was not given sufficient time to present its case during the first all-state chief ministers meeting which was held to formulate the strategy to tackle the coronovirus outbreak.
The state government has demanded more PPE and testing kits and is also mounting pressure for the release of more funds from the Centre. On April 4, the Finance Minister of West Bengal, Amit Mitra, in a letter to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had requested for release of Rs 5,013 crores in three instalments. Mitra had claimed it is the state’s share as the revenue deficit grant provided by the 15th Finance Commission.
The state has registered 116 COVID-19 positive cases and five deaths. The Banerjee government had received only 10,000 N95 masks from the Centre against their demand of 5.95 lakh masks. The West Bengal CM is likely to attend the meeting to be chaired by PM Modi on Saturday and could again rake up these issues.
Notably, between the second and third all chief ministers meeting, India has witnessed a three-fold increase in the coronavirus positive cases. According to Union Health Ministry data, COVID cases have already crossed 6,700 and the death toll has touched 200. The chorus of opinion from the states seems to be against the lockdown being lifted. While Telangana has publicly asked the Centre to not lift the lockdown, the Odisha government has already extended the restriction in the state till April 30. The need for PPEs and testing kits and demand by the chief ministers that they be heard may also surface in the meeting.