Covid 19
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This article is written by Jannat, a law student from Chandigarh University, Mohali. The article discusses political rallies during Covid19’s second wave and their impact.

Table of Contents

Introduction

A vigorous discussion is raging in the media against the backdrop of the horrible human catastrophe unfolding in India: Did political rallies contribute to the surge of COVID-19 cases that has swamped the frail healthcare system since the middle of April 2021? The answer appears self-evident. Regardless of the reason for the gathering, large crowds of individuals without masks or physical distancing might spread the COVID-19 virus. Political rallies drew significant crowds in each of the five states that had assembly elections. Masking and physical distance were almost totally ignored, according to newspaper reporting and television coverage of these gatherings. As a result, these events likely led to the virus’s fast spread and subsequent increase in COVID-19 cases.

Data analysis

Deepankar Basu (Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst) gathered data on daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in India’s top 25 states, which together account for more than 99 percent of daily COVID-19 cases now, to test the theory that whether the surge in cases during the second wave of coronavirus is the result of political rallies. These 25 states were separated into two categories. The first category, which he dubs “The Election States,” includes Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal, which all had elections in late March 2021. The remaining 20 states make up the second category, which he refers to as the “Non-Election States.”

From January 1, 2021, to April 29, 2021, he plotted the logarithm of the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the two groups of states. The slope of the logarithmic figure depicts the pace of increase in the average number of COVID-19 cases each day. The daily number of confirmed cases is dropping overtime when the curve is downward sloping; when the curve is upward sloping, the daily number of confirmed cases is growing over time. The steeper the slope, the faster the daily number of confirmed cases increases.

In the early part of the year, the average number of daily COVID-19 cases was dropping in both groups of states. In both groups of states, the logarithm of the average number of daily COVID-19 cases decreased in January and February. This is what prompted the Narendra Modi government and its followers to believe that the epidemic had passed India by and the the country had achieved herd immunity. Beginning in mid-February, disparities in the trajectory of the COVID-19 epidemic in the two sets of states began to appear.

On February 10, 2021, the declining trend of daily COVID-19 instances in the non-election states was reversed. Since then, the average number of COVID-19 cases in non-election states has been significantly increasing. This reversal was most likely triggered by the introduction of new variants of the virus into the Indian population, as well as the lowering of the guard in areas like Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Gujarat in terms of masking and physical distance. What’s remarkable is that the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the Election States has been falling for more than a month, while it has been climbing in the Non-Election States. The average number of COVID-19 cases in the Election States begins its fast-rising trend only on March 15.

The increase in cases in the Election States rapidly surpassed the average number in the Non-Election States. The increase rate of the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the two groups of states is shown in the first two rows of Table 1 for four more recent times: March 1 to April 29, March 15 to April 29, April 1 to April 29, and April 15 to April 29. Table 1 shows that beginning in early March, growth rates in the two groupings of states diverged. While the growth rate in the Non-Election States was gradually falling, from 6.09 to 5.87 to 5.35 to 3.01, it was steadily increasing in the Election States, from 6.13 to 8.06 to 9.26, before decreasing slightly after April 15 to 7.99. The differential growth rates resulted in a disparity in average case levels. By the middle of April, the average number of daily cases in the Election States had surpassed that in the Non-Election States (see Figure 1). Thankfully, the rate of increase in the Election States has begun to slow in recent days.

Growth Rate(%) of Average Daily Number of COVID-19 Cases until 29th April

 

Since 1st March

Since 15th March

Since 1st April

Since 15th April

Non-Election States

6.09

5.87

5.35

3.01

Election States

6.13

8.06

9.26

7.99

Assam

10.04

12.58

15.49

13.34

Kerala

4.99

7.72

10.80

9.47

Puducherry

7.94

7.86

6.97

6.11

Tamil Nadu

6.79

7.09

6.79

5.62

West Bengal

8.87

10.47

9.61

7.59

                                                              Table 1 

The difference in COVID-19 outbreak trajectories between Election and Non-Election States corresponds to the date of the election process and suggests that election rallies may have contributed, at least in part, to the quick surge in cases in several Indian states. In early March, the Election Commission of India began notifying assembly elections in Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal (on March 2 in West Bengal and Assam, and on March 12 in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry).

As seen in the bottom panel of the table there are variances among the five Election States. Assam is the poorest performer, with a growth rate that jumped from 10% to over 15.5 percent before falling to 13.34 percent. The next poorest performances are West Bengal and Kerala. Both Puducherry and Tamil Nadu do a far better job of containing the spread than the other three states. Tamil Nadu is obviously the greatest performer, with a growth rate that is just above 7%.

The one ray of hope is that the number of daily confirmed cases has begun to decline in all of the election states (as can be seen from the last column in Table 1). This is most likely the result of the election process winding down in the five states, as well as political and administrative authorities’ welcome, if tardy, response to the hazards of large gatherings in the context of the epidemic. However, this simply adds to the primary theory that political rallies in India led to the rise of COVID-19 cases and inflicted this massive tragedy on the Indian people.

The Disaster Management Act, 2005 act provides the provisions for passing guidelines in the instances of the current situation. The specifics of the act are listed underneath.

Disaster Management Act, 2005

The Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house of Parliament, passed the Disaster Management Act, 2005 on November 28, 2005, and the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of Parliament, passed it on December 12, 2005. On December 23, 2005, the President of India gave his approval. There are 11 chapters and 79 sections in the Disaster Management Act of 2005. The Act applies to the entire country of India. The Act provides for efficient emergency prevention, as well as matters related to or incidental to disasters. The primary goal of this act is to help people who have been devastated by disasters in reclaiming their lives.

Section 3 of the act provides for the establishment of the National Disaster Management Authority. The prime minister is the ex officio chairman of the National Authority and other members include nine-person nominated by the chairman.

Section 6 provide for the powers and functions of the authority, which are as follows

  1. According to the provisions of this Act, the National Authority is responsible for establishing disaster management policies, plans, and guidelines to ensure a timely and effective response to disasters.
  2. Without limiting the generality of the provisions of sub-section (1), the National Authority may: 
  1. establish disaster management policies; 
  2. approve the National Plan; 
  3. approve plans prepared by Ministries or Departments of the Government of India in accordance with the National Plan;  
  4. establish guidelines to be followed by State Authorities in developing the National Plan.
  5. establish guidelines for different Ministries or Departments of the Government of India to follow in order to integrate disaster prevention or mitigation measures into their development plans and projects; 
  6. coordinate the enforcement and implementation of the disaster management policy and plan; 
  7. recommend the provision of funds for the purpose;
  8. provide such assistance to other countries affected by major disasters as the Central Government deems necessary; 
  9. take any other measures it deems necessary for disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness, and capacity building in the event of a threatening disaster situation or disaster;
  10. establish broad policies and guidelines for the operation of the National Institute of Disaster Management;
  11. In the event of an emergency, the Chairperson of the National Authority has the authority to exercise all or some of the National Authority’s functions, but such action is subject to ex post facto approval by the National Authority.

Section 12 of the act provides that the authority shall recommend minimum guidelines for providing  relief to people

Section 14 provides for the establishment of the State Disaster Management Authority. The Chief Minister of the State shall be the ex officio Chairperson, and other members, cannot be more than eight, and they will be nominated by the chairperson of the State Authority.

Section 18 talks about the powers and functions of the State Authority.

  1. Subject to the provisions of this Act, a State Authority shall have the responsibility for laying down policies and plans for disaster management in the state.
  2. Without prejudice to the generality of provisions contained in sub-section (1), the State Authority may—
  1. lay down the State disaster management policy;
  2. approve the State Plan in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the National Authority;
  3. approve the disaster management plans prepared by the departments of the Government of the State;
  4. lay down guidelines to be followed by the departments of the government of the State for the purpose of the integration of measures for prevention of disasters and mitigation in their development plans and projects and provide necessary technical assistance therefor;
  5. coordinate the implementation of the State Plan;
  6. recommend the provision of funds for mitigation and preparedness measures;
  7. review the development plans of the different departments of the State and ensure that prevention and mitigation measures are integrated therein;
  8. review the measures being taken for mitigation, capacity building, and preparedness by the departments of the Government of the State and issue such guidelines as may be necessary.
  9. The Chairperson of the State Authority shall, in the case of emergency, have the power to exercise all or any of the powers of the State Authority but the exercise of such powers shall be subject to ex post facto ratification of the State Authority.

The stance of the Election Commission

The Election Commission (EC) states that the State Disaster Management Authority and its officials are responsible for enforcing COVID-19 protocol procedures (such as lockdown, restriction/curtailment on public gatherings, etc.) under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

“During this time, the State Disaster Management Authority did not prohibit public meetings under the Disaster Management Act. The Election Commission instructed everyone to follow the rules and to report any violations to the police under the Disaster Management Act 2005. The EC has consistently ordered state/district administration to enforce the National Disaster Management Authority/current State Disaster Management Authority’s instructions,” the poll panel stated. 

In 2020, amidst the NDMA/SDMA mandated lockdown and other enforcement measures under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the commission conducted the electoral exercise in Bihar,” the commission said. 

The concerned SDMA and notified agencies are responsible for ensuring compliance with the 2005 Act. The Commission highlighted in its August 2, 2020 judgment and all subsequent directives that state authorities must ensure COVID compliance in the context of public meetings and other campaign-related activities. The Commission will never take over the duty of enforcing COVID-19 guidelines from SDMA.

The Election Commission also said in a statement that it restated its COVID-19 safety instructions on February 26, 2021, while declaring the election in five states and a union territory, including Tamil Nadu, and that the campaign finished on April 4, 2021.

Remarks by various courts

Madras High Court

The Madras High Court slammed the Election Commission (EC), stating it was the “sole institution” to blame for the deadly COVID-19 second wave that is now sweeping India. Currently, four states and one union territory are holding assembly elections, and the EC permitted electoral rallies to take place as usual, although the COVID-19 protocol was not being observed. They also called it the “the most irresponsible institution” and said its officials might be booked for murder. This petition was being heard by a bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy on whether proper COVID-19 safety protocols were in place during vote counting in the Karur constituency.

Delhi High Court

The Delhi High Court has asked the Centre and the Election Commission to respond to a petition demanding that everyone engaging in vote campaigns in various states and union territories wear face masks as a matter of course. Vikram Singh, the former DGP of Uttar Pradesh and the chairman of Think Tank Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change, filed an application with the Centre and the EC, and a bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh issued notice to the Centre and the EC, seeking their responses to the application (CASC).

Allahabad High Court

According to the Allahabad High Court, the Election Commission, higher courts, and the government “failed to understand the terrible ramifications” of allowing elections in a few states and the panchayat election in Uttar Pradesh. Covid has now reached villages in Uttar Pradesh, according to the court, with the state’s recent panchayat election contributing to the increase.

Insights gained from this emergency

For starters, India should avoid declaring victory over the virus too soon, and triumphalism should be avoided. In the case of future infection increases, people should also learn to adapt to short, local lockdowns. Given that India is still far from achieving herd immunity and its vaccination rate remains low, most epidemiologists foresee future waves. Professor Reddy stated, “We can’t freeze human life.” “If we can’t physically separate ourselves in congested cities, we can at least ensure that everyone is wearing a proper mask. And make sure you put it on correctly. That isn’t a difficult request.”

Conclusion

From the foregoing, it can be determined that holding electoral rallies during COVID 19 was a major blunder and that it also represents our institutions’ inability to enforce COVID regulations. If our political leaders had even a smidgeon of regard for the general population, public health regulations would have been rigidly enforced at election rallies and other mass gatherings, and this man-made disaster of massive proportions would not have occurred. A second wave was imminent, but India might have “postponed or delayed it and decreased its effects,” according to Gautam Menon, a physics and biology expert. Mr. Menon believes that India, like many other nations, should have started comprehensive genomic surveillance in January to discover mutations. Some of these mutations may be to blame for the uptick. “In February, we learned about additional varieties thanks to Maharashtra reports. The authorities originally disputed this, “Mr. Menon continued. “This was a watershed moment in history.”

While the leaders and government may come out with various excuses that elections couldn’t be delayed or that a second wave was inevitable, the truth is that the pandemic, which could have been managed and put under control if the right measures were taken at the right time became a man-made disaster because of sheer mismanagement and irresponsible attitude of those in power. Whereas the common people were the immediate sufferers. 

References


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