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A major step to tackle the falling revenues of the state during the lockdown was to defer the salaries of the state legislators and all elected members of the local bodies.

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IPRI # 53, 21 April 2020

COVID-19 and the Indian States
Andhra Pradesh: Early course correction, Independent leadership and Targeted Mitigation  

  Hrudaya C Kamasani


Andhra Pradesh witnessed a potential crisis in the making, when on 15 March it's Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy held a press conference in light of the first positive COVID-19 case in the state during which he suggested that the people need not panic and that ingesting paracetamol for those with symptoms and spraying the belongings of those returning from foreign travels with bleach would be sufficient measures to treat COVID-19 spread. He also expressed his displeasure at the State Election Commission for deciding against holding the Municipal elections originally scheduled on 23 March. This indifference to the growing health emergency was instantly met with severe condemnation by the opposition and civil society for encouraging complacency among the people. 

But in light of the strict measures being increasingly implemented by the neighbouring states and the acknowledgement of the severity of the impending crisis by the Centre, Jagan Mohan Reddy quickly changed his mind with regard to the importance of precautionary action. Within less than a week, two more imported COVID-19 positive cases were identified and the Chief Minister actively directed the district administrators to closely monitor the situation and spread the message of social distancing in an effective manner.

On 18 March, all primary and higher educational institutions were closed. The Tirumala Temple which sees thousands of devotees pass through its queues every day was on 19 March ordered to be closed for darshans along with its 50 sub-temples. By 20 March, through village volunteers, Asha workers and ANMs door-to-door surveys were being conducted to identify people who have returned from foreign countries and people who they have contacted to check their condition. Jagan Mohan Reddy also launched an innovative campaign which brought in 2.5 lakh volunteers for a door-to-door screening of possible COVID-19 patients with a focus on those returning from travel abroad. 

On 30 March, Jagan Mohan Reddy announced free ration through the Public Distribution System to ration card holders until 15 April. However, the distribution was not without a hitch as the Fair Price shops were crowded from the night before, POS machines had technical errors and in many places, cardholders were seen to be not practising social distancing. The move, although beneficial to those dependent on daily wages, showed the inefficiencies in the current PDS system to function in a crisis like a health emergency. To ensure that the NGOs running old-age homes and child care institutions do not go without essential commodities, officials were to ensure that rice and dal be delivered free of cost to them. He also initiated transfer of Rs. 1,000 to the accounts of those belonging to BPL status for which he has requested Rs 1,500 crores in funds from the centre.

A major step to tackle the falling revenues of the state during the lockdown was to defer the salaries of the state legislators and all elected members of the local bodies. According to the order dated 31 March, the salaries of all government employees belonging to different cadres and classes will be deferred by varying rates whereas the personnel at the frontlines will be paid as usual. In an appeal to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Jagan Mohan Reddy outlined the dire revenue situation of the state and asked for immediate and liberal financial assistance to be extended to bail it out. The state also requested the supply of testing kits and PPEs in view of the spurt in the number of positive cases to 220 as of 6 April, due to the quantum jump in new infections from the attendees of Tablighi Jamaat.

Almost 87 per cent of the total infections in Andhra Pradesh have been identified to have been directly or indirectly connected to the Tablighi Jamaat attendees. A similar surge in infections have been seen in other parts of the country as well due to the congregation at Nizamuddin and the same had given rise to a wave of communal ire against the school and by extension against Islam over social media with trending hashtags such as #covidjihad and #tablighivirus. In response to the prejudicial association Jagan Mohan Reddy in a video message to the state condemned the blaming of a particular religion for the spread of the coronavirus in the country. He also said congregations were held by other notable spiritual leaders elsewhere as well at the same time. An example of this is that at the same time TTD in Tirumala too, which sees a much larger turnover of people, was admitting a normal influx of devotees.

The condemnation of the prejudice aimed at Tablighi Jamaat attendees or by the association at the Muslim community at large by Jagan Mohan Reddy is notable at a time when no such comments have emerged from the centre showing the leadership at the federal level is just as much if not more mindful of prioritizing the crisis over communal division. The state of Andhra Pradesh has also shown that states can implement measures and act independently of the centre to tackle the pandemic in innovative ways as evidenced from the roping in of volunteers for testing, the order directing all private hospitals to have COVID-19 wards, and the implementing of measures to ensure that the already disadvantaged and low-income groups do not face further hardships due to the lockdown.

Jagan Mohan Reddy’s change of mind early on to take the pandemic seriously following severe criticism for his complacent remarks further highlight the role of civil society, media and a critical opposition in guiding state leaders to respond to the situation at their home grounds in a way that is appropriate to their specific needs without depending wholly on the centre for initiative. While the centre is undeniably vital in laying down basic guidelines for dealing with the crisis and in allocating funds and necessary equipment, the political will of the respective state governments will determine how well the measures are carried out.

Hrudaya C Kamasani is a PhD Scholar in the School of Conflict and Security Studies at National Institute of Advanced Studies. 
 


As of 22 April, 2020 India crossed the 20,000 mark in its total number of coronavirus affected cases with 645 deaths. The country heads to complete a month of complete lockdown and in this, while few states have been able to manage the health crisis, most are yet to recuperate. The International Peace Research Initiative (IPRI) at NIAS takes a critical look at the response readiness, mitigation abilities, societal perception and role of media in the different federal states in India while combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

The IPRI Series on “COVID-19 and Indian States” brings out the comparative narration and the larger picture on how India is addressing the pandemic. This initiative is undertaken by the IPRI in collaboration with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS). The KAS-India Office is one of the principal partners of the IPRI and the IPRI network.

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