Nagrik Dialogue

Federal Cooperation needed to fight Corona

Senior Advocate
Supreme Court of India

State governments in India must fully cooperate with the Central government and comply with guidelines of Central government issued under the Disaster Management Act 2005. This is a Central enactment and Chapter 2 Part 11 of the Constitution empowers the Central government to issue direction to States to implement the Central Act, guidelines and recommendations. The State is under an obligation to comply. To refuse compliance and to place obstruction will amount to break down of Constitutional machinery.

Covid 19 is a pandemic. Central government has competence to deal with a situation of nationwide epidemic. It can send Central teams to investigate. The team so sent should be allowed to do its job. Of course if the teams give a wrong report the same can be contested. States can make other demands of the Centre like funds and food, kits and medicines, etc. They are important players in the corona battle and Centre too needs to respond to the best of ability. Federal cooperation is significant and we cannot afford to go the USA way. Lives of people are at stake, economy is at stake. The stakes are too high for any government to play partisan party politics. Neither Centre should destabilise states, nor States should obstruct.

Disaster Management Act empowers the Central government to bring in Army. But this Act deals with disaster management only. Army can be called only for the limited purpose of aiding the fight against Corona. The Act has to be understood puroosively. It can be called only to render help and it is needed as it is better and comprehensively equipped and more disciplined. It cannot be used to dislodge, substitute or paralyze the state government. Dislodgement is possible only through the route of Art 356 of the Constitution on the ground of breakdown of Constitutional machinery. So the state government must ensure to steer clearly away from creating a situation of breakdown of Constitutional machinery. To ensure that the state government must ensure compliance with the Central government guidelines and recommendations, and cooperate.

There is this difference that in normal times assistance of the Army can be sought by States in case of need. But in disaster situation the Central government decides if they are needed for disaster management. States consent or request is not a condition precedent.

At the same time the covid 19 situation and the wide ambit of Disaster management Act notwithstanding the Central powers must realize this is no situation for a Centre – State conflict or time to destabilise and dislodge. Federal Coordination and cooperation is needed and is the only way. Without democratic government in states the Centre cannot succeed against Corona.. High tones of conflict obstruct the battle against Corona. Energies get misdirected. Focus shifts to politics, instead of the fight against Corona. The Centre – West Bengal tiff in relation to central team visit must be seen in this perspective. We hope confrontation yields to cooperation. Despite distancing we stand united against Corona.

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