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Against the backdrop of what is clearly a blunder in the decision to send-off the Chennai returnees to Tuensang without first ascertaining the results of the Covid-19 tests and putting at risk many more people of contracting the pandemic, the Nagaland government has now constituted a 3-member Judicial Inquiry Committee (JIC). According to a notification from the Home Department, the JIC would probe and report within 15-days, on the ‘deliberate violation’ of standard operating procedures (SOP) as laid out by the government.
The Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary have admitted of ‘lapses’ been committed in sending the Chennai returnees to Tuensang in their meeting with the ENPO and the ENLU. According to local dailies, both the CM and the CS “expressed regrets for the unauthorized sending-off” (media report on 29 May which the government has not refuted so far). Most importantly, the admission of ‘lapses’ and ‘regrets’ gives credence to reports that even as the Cabinet was in the midst of deliberating on the matter of transporting the returnees to Tuensang, the buses were actually sent away. This raises the question: Why the highest decision-making body in the state, the Cabinet, weighed whether or not to send the returnees to Tuensang when the SOP is very clear that all returnees need to be quarantined in Dimapur and Kohima pending test report? There are also enough inputs to suggest that the same Cabinet meeting could have recalled the returnees while the buses were near Tseminyu, but it did not.
Hence, taking all these factual positions into consideration, where is the justification for the government to set up a JIC, this too in the middle of a pandemic, wasting valuable time and resources? It is obvious that the state leadership does not want to take direct responsibility for the blame and the fiasco, but instead prefer to go for a long detour by appointing a JIC. The last time an inquiry was constituted by the Nagaland government was to probe the January 31, 2017 violent incident in Dimapur. Even with extension after extension, no report has come out till date, at least in public domain.
The third point of the terms of reference for the inquiry with regard to the setting up of the JIC is highly insensitive. While admitting “management gap” on the one hand, and saying: “Whether there was lack of co-ordination between the task forces of sending and receiving districts”, on the other hand, could be seen an attempt to steer the JIC to drag-in the District Task Force of Tuensang for the debacle at Kohima. Instead of showing remorse, the government seems to be directly playing with the sentiments of the eastern Nagaland people. It is indeed ironical that the JIC is already discredited before it could even have its first seating.
Interestingly, even before the JIC could sit, the Chief Secretary has ordered the replacement of the Principal Secretary Health & Family Welfare. The government may explain why the sudden decision to ‘relieve’ the Administrative Head of the Department when the state is in the middle of a grave situation. Is it a routine reshuffle of top officials? If not, should the entire Cabinet and the COVID War-Room also not be held accountable?
It also appears that the current set-up in the COVID War-Room with multiplicity of authorities could also be contributing confusion in the decision-making process. There is the Chief Minister’s Office, the Chief Secretary, the Empowered Committee, the District Task Force and State Control Room (under Health & Family Welfare Dept). A review of the COVID War-Room set up is in order.
For the immediate, The Naga Rising would like to raise the following issues:
- COVID War-Room 2.0: The government need to take the political initiative to support the emerging health situation in Tuensang district in particular (with 5 positive cases) and the rest of eastern Nagaland. As part of the COVID War-Room 2.0, a permanent COVID-19 War-Room should be set up in Tuensang district immediately operationally manned by a senior official and the necessary members drawn from Disaster Management/Finance/Medical Dept/Police/Home departments, etc. t0 administer all decisions and support systems for eastern Nagaland districts with the Chief Secretary remaining as the overall in-charge.
- Special Purpose Vehicle: Funding and expenditure should be earmarked for the four eastern Nagaland districts as in proportion to population. For this purpose, a SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) could be created where the official in-charge of the COVID-19 WAR ROOM in Tuensang could be the CEO of the SPV as well. The Finance Commissioner, stationed in the capital, Kohima, may be designated as the Chairperson of the SPV. All the Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) could be designated as ex-officio members of the SPV. Likewise, community members could be drawn from the tribe hohos, NGOs, and representatives of the CSOs of the districts should be members of the SPV. The Naga Rising is of the opinion that legislators should not be inducted in the SPV. The basic idea is to empower the local community to allocate resources/make timely decision/procure materials, etc. without routing everything through the Secretariat/Directorate at Kohima, or essentially to cut the red tape. Also, by having the SPV, the grievances of disproportionate allocation of resources can be addressed as the government will have to distribute a specific amount for eastern Nagaland, thus ensuring transparency and accountability. These pro-people measures will go a long way in instilling confidence and goodwill among the eastern Nagaland people.
- Pursuing the already discredited JIC may only further bring disgrace to the government.
The Naga Rising
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