Formulate a national plan for handling Covid-19: Sibal to govt

New Delhi, April 25 (IANS) The Congress on Saturday bemoaned the Central government’s “conspicuous silence” on the Disaster Management Act (DMA), 2005, and asked it to formulate a national plan for handling the coronavirus crisis, saying it’s time the government rethink the lockdown measures.”

“You cannot have a lockdown of people and a lockout of the economy. That’s not the way to formulate a policy. We are not criticising. We are only saying it is time to rethink. We are with the government. This is constructive criticism,” said senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal at a press conference via video-conferencing.

He said that as per the DMA, the Union government was duty-bound to formulate the national plan to deal with Covid-19, but “strangely, the government has maintained conspicuous silence”.

The Union government, in the absence of a national plan to deal with Covid-19, seems to have delegated its responsibilities under the DMA to state governments.

“Without the necessary infrastructure, both human and physical, and adequate financial resources, state governments are not in a position to effectively deal with this pandemic,” he said.

“Our Prime Minister’s limited role, so far as we can see, is addressing the nation from time to time. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) made no preparations to put in place a plan despite the WHO declaring the virus to be a public health emergency towards the end of January,” he said.

“Why were detailed plans not made within seven weeks of the WHO declaration? Only on March 24, the Prime Minister announced a national lockdown,” said the Congress leader.

“We are in the fourth week of April and there is no plan in place even now”. The Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), presumably presiding over the National Executive Committee (NEC) under the Act, is issuing directions to state governments to deal with the situation,” he said.

Sibal also highlighted the plight of the migrant workers stuck in various states amind the nationwide lockdown.

“We would like the Prime Minister to inform the people about the minimum standards of relief that are required to be provided to persons affected by the disaster. Instead of discharging its solemn responsibilities to provide succour to the poor and helpless stranded migrants, the Union government has chosen to shift the onus to state governments to do what they can without a plan and without guidelines prescribing minimum standards of relief,” he said.

Hitting out at Modi for setting up PM-CARES Fund, Sibal said, “It is ironic that instead of using the provisions of the Act for grant of relief, the Prime Minister has set up a Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance Relief in Emergency Situations (PM-CARES) fund asking people to generously donate.”

He said that is precisely the money that should go to the NDRF for relief and rehabilitation of those affected by the lockdown. “The purpose of setting up of PM-CARES should be made public when private donations can be made to the NDRF,” he said, adding that otherwise, the motive for setting of PM-CARES may evoke suspicion.

He also called upon the judiciary to evolve a policy to ensure that the justice delivery system is considered an essential service during such a crisis.