The action of the Karnataka government on Monday granting exemption to ministers of the Union government or state governments or officers on duty who are travelling across states from requirements of quarantine after Union fertilisers and chemicals minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda broke the standard operating procedure reflects the ad-hocism and lack of coordination that rule the Covid containment efforts in the country.
Mr Gowda, who arrived in Bengaluru on Monday from Delhi on a scheduled flight when the domestic air traffic was opened after two months, allegedly violated the SOP that required people who reached the state by domestic flights from Delhi and five other states to spend the first week in institutional quarantine and the second week in home quarantine.
The minister, who attended review meetings with officials, later said he cannot be equated with ordinary people as he was responsible for ensuring the availability of medicines in every part of the country and that his institutional quarantine would impede it.
After the controversy erupted, the Karnataka government published an addendum to the SOP granting the exemption.
Only later did the minister place himself in home quarantine, that too after the government seemed to realise the enormity of the breach of regulations.
Nobody has a case that a Union minister with such a critical responsibility should be made to shut himself out from the world even for a single day when the whole nation is fighting the deadly virus.
But a government cannot work on knee-jerk reactions; it should follow the laid down rules. Nobody would have complained if the minister was sent to Bengaluru on a chartered flight; this nation can afford that luxury.
Nobody would have regretted granting exemption to the important functionaries and then they follow it; but doing so to pardon violations by important people with retrospective effect is unacceptable.
One may wonder why nobody in the Union government had objected to a senior minister taking a regular scheduled flight and risking his health but anyone who closely watches the functioning of some of the ministries have little reason to do so.
A pandemic would have ideally been fought by the state governments under the leadership and coordination of the Union government, but the latter has been hardly successful in carrying out its role effectively.
The total chaos witnessed across airports on Monday when air traffic was opened after a long period showed the callousness with which the government approached the operation.
The recent surge in the number of Covid positive cases can be attributed to the failure in rolling out an aggressive national programme on contact tracing, screening, testing, quarantine and treatment during the long and extended lockdown period.
Lakhs of guest workers trekking back home point to another failure; the diversion of several Shramik Special trains carrying them home due to congestion in the route is yet another.
It is laughable to suggest that that the Indian Railways, a 150-year old institution with exceptional skills of managing complex permutations and combinations, failed to manage a few hundred trains when it has ceased its normal operations. It’s time the Union government got its act together....