United front in Delhi: On Kejriwal government-Centre camaraderie

The govts in Delhi and the Centre must join hands for a robust response to COVID-19

Updated - June 18, 2020 01:09 am IST

Published - June 18, 2020 12:02 am IST

The new-found spirit of camaraderie between the Arvind Kejriwal-led government of Delhi and the BJP-led Centre has not come a moment too early. Delhi is in the grip of the pandemic, and its response had been chaotic until recently. The Centre and Mr. Kejriwal have had a long history of mutual hostility, affecting the city’s pandemic preparedness. On March 4, there was just a single case. As of June 16, 44,688 positive cases and 1,837 deaths have been recorded. Meanwhile, complaints of denial of patient care , exploitative billing by private hospitals , and deliberate attempts to underreport cases and deaths have surfaced. Whether there is community spread or not, in half of the cases, the infection source is unknown. The national capital is staring at an even bleaker situation ahead, as cases are expected to cross 5.5 lakh by July-end. All this was to be expected and in fact, the purpose of the national lockdown that continued for 10 weeks until June 7 was to prepare the health infrastructure for such a surge. Delhi failed in that task. The pandemic has stretched the health-care system even in developed countries to a breaking point. Administrative inaction and personality clashes aggravated the situation in Delhi.

Home Minister Amit Shah and Mr. Kejriwal seem to have agreed on the need for enhanced cooperation between the governments. Though a bit a late in the day, this could potentially lead to a more robust response by pooling in resources. In the process, Mr. Kejriwal has conceded some ground to the Centre and its representative, L-G Anil Baijal. Mr. Shah inspected a hospital in the city on Monday and Mr. Baijal has been taking a hands-on approach to the management of affairs. He has used his authority as chairman of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), and powers vested in him to maintain public order during the epidemic to take critical decisions. He has reversed decisions by the Kejriwal government that discouraged testing and limited treatment to only bonafide city residents. A new six-member advisory committee of eminent experts has been constituted to advise the DDMA. The L-G issued orders empowering government officials to impose fines ranging from ₹500 to ₹1,000 on those found violating norms related to COVID-19 prevention such as spitting in public among others, besides fresh measures to ensure transparency in the functioning of the city’s medical facilities. On his part, Mr. Kejriwal has been uncharacteristically mellowed and said his interactions with Mr. Shah were “extremely productive”. This cooperation may have been necessitated more by expediency than by choice, but it has given the city hope that it can avoid hurtling toward disaster.

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