Thursday, June 24, 2021
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Open letter to the Chief Minister of Nagaland regarding the challenges of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond     

Honourable Chief Minister of Nagaland
Mr. Neiphiu Rio
New Secretariat Complex
Kohima 797004
Nagaland

Sir,

We are a group of research scholars and alumni of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi who have been closely observing the state of affairs in Nagaland since the outbreak of Covid-19. We are writing to you out of concern for our home state and its people. We are not affiliated to any political party.

As the physical health of citizens is directly related to the health of a democratic polity, we put forward some suggestions and questions for your sincere perusal and timely action. We hope that it is taken in the spirit of constructive criticism and intellectual contribution for the wellbeing of one and all.

  1. We appreciate the state administration for its tireless work during the present crisis. However we express deep concern about the disparity between the state government’s announcements in the media about being “fully prepared” and the real situation on the ground.
  1. The Centre has sanctioned Rs 176.52 crores from the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) towards State Disaster and Response Mitigation Fund (SDRMF) of Nagaland (vide Nagaland Post, dated 27/3/20). Out of this, Rs 20.50 crores has been received as first instalment (vide India Today, dated 5/4/20). As of now the state government has allotted only 25% of the received funds when we are at a crucial period of mitigating a potential disaster. This is woefully inadequate and also demoralising for those working at the forefront and putting themselves on the line. Also MDoNER will be releasing Rs 25 crores for the Northeastern states. Apart from these central funds, generous donations are pouring in from citizens and well-wishers towards the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund (CMRF). As there is no dearth of funds, we demand that a larger amount should be released towards meeting the exigencies of COVID-19. The healthcare facilities and infrastructures as well as human capital that we build now will hold us in good stead beyond the pandemic crisis.
  2. Use this crisis as an opportunity to extensively upgrade the healthcare facilities in all the districts. There should be no compromise in the utilisation of central funds to expedite the procurement of medical equipment, ventilators, and to ensure fully functional quarantine facilities and BSL-3 labs.
  3. In light of the increasing reports of healthcare workers, sanitation workers, and support staff like ambulance drivers being ostracised, facing social stigma, eviction by landlords, and sleeping outdoors for fear of infecting their families, the government should make immediate provisions for temporary accommodation, food, and rest stations for health professionals and frontline workers directly handling Covid-19 cases.
  1. Procurement of high grade Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be made a priority and with urgency. Ensure that the medical staffs receive training on handling Covid-19 patients and disinfection as per World Health Organisation (WHO) protocol. All healthcare workers including sanitation staff, drivers, and support staff should be provided with high quality protective gear immediately.
  2. Owing to the conversion of district hospitals to Covid-19 centres, patients are compelled to seek treatment at private clinics and hospitals located mostly in urban areas at a prohibitive cost. Therefore, it is imperative that the government provide medical goods to private hospitals at subsidised rates so that the benefit is transferred to the patients. This has to be done by strictly regulating the price of goods and services and strictly checking for misinvoicing of bills. The government should not use the pandemic as an opportunity to further privatise our healthcare system and retreat from its obligation. What policies and measures have the state government drafted to ensure that the public healthcare system that is already in tatters does not become further unavailable to the public?
  1. Declare the amount of funds received from the Centre as well as towards the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund (CMRF) on a regular basis on the official state website and local media. The public has the right to know how effectively the central funds and their donations are being utilised. We demand transparency in the utilisation of funds with details of budget allocations and spending to be published in the local dailies and government circulars and the state’s official website. If that is not forthcoming, the state government should be answerable to the citizens’ charges of massive embezzlement.
  1. The Rs 38 lakhs earmarked as exigency fund out of the CMRF for all the Deputy Commissioners (DC) is not adequate. Release more funds on a regular basis so that the DCs can make provisions for adequate food and medicines for the labourers and daily wage earners (both urban and rural areas). Coordinate with the DCs to ensure fair distribution even to those not covered by PDS and Jan Dhan Yojana during the lockdown. Discrimination on the basis of community, local and non-local ethnicity is self-defeating given the pernicious nature of the virus.
  1. There should be no mandatory deduction from the salaries of government employees as it had taken place in some departments. Issue a circular to all heads of departments that employees should not be pressured to donate. Donations by government employees should be voluntary because they are already donating to more reliable agencies such as their respective village, church, NGOs and so on towards the Covid-19 crisis.
  1. Grant adequate monthly “risk and hardship” allowance for healthcare staff and police personnel across rank and file to boost their morale until the pandemic crisis comes to an end.
  1. Ensure that essential commodities are available at reasonable rates in the market. Strict regulations should be imposed and defaulters identified.
  1. Issue proper advisory on police as well as non-government vigilante groups so that they do not resort to high-handedness towards those who go out for essential commodities, those in healthcare sector, and official duty. District administration should assess the efficacy of vigilante youths as they could also unwittingly contract and transmit the virus. Ensure that they do not harass or discriminate against non-Nagas.
  2. Mobilise all the state information and communication agencies like DIPR and AIR to keep the public informed of crucial developments, policies, relief work, utilisation of funds, sensitisation and so on. Wherever necessary, these should be translated into local languages.
  3. The government should seriously introspect about the absence of a medical college or institute even after more than half a century of attaining statehood. The process should be expedited and this concern should also be escalated to the two Members of Parliament. Why do citizens still have to travel to RIMS in Imphal, NEIGRIHMS in Shillong, Guwahati and beyond for every major illness at great cost and inconvenience?
  4. Expedite the setting up of Covid-19 testing labs since the instruments and equipment have arrived. Mizoram had formed a core committee and built it in eight days in the first week of April.
  5. Impress upon the public to first use the Covid-19 helpline number if symptoms arise. This is important because the first Covid-19 patient of Nagaland went directly to a private hospital instead of contacting the Covid-19 hospital jeopardising many people.
  6. We seek clarity on the status of the conversion of Niathu Resort and the Cricket Academy in Sovima as quarantine zones and the available amenities. Are these facilities offered out of goodwill or at the expense of the state exchequer, or will the cost be borne from the NDRF funds, or the CM Relief Fund or other funds?
  7. We also question the wisdom of building mostly Kohima-centric infrastructures when it is already saturated with a high population, a fragile ecology, and unstable topography. Serving narrow tribal interests is the bane of our society. We seek equitable distribution of resources and infrastructures across all the districts; it is not just a “tribal” or political issue, it is also an ethical issue that calls for soul searching.
  8. While the Governor R. N. Ravi’s suggestion of setting up a Covid-19 war room is noteworthy, the metaphor of war is not the most appropriate in preventing social calamity. Rather than a top-down approach, it would be prudent to incorporate Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s recommendation of “listening” to the problems of the people. By listening to the public, their struggles and their opinions, policy-makers understand better what needs to be done. What the people need is empathy and not the intensification of state repression.
  9. This crisis should serve as an eye opener for the government and public alike, and, we should deeply introspect about out apathy, complacency, and incompetency. It is an occasion to develop accountability and build up not just infrastructures but our ethics as well.
  10. Dear Chief Minister, in your address to the media you have said, “These are extraordinary times and we need to unite in order to face the challenge under a spirit of oneness. Every citizen is a member of team Nagaland and together we will overcome the hurdles that lie ahead”.
    We agree with you, and since extraordinary times calls for extraordinary leadership, we believe that you will rise to the occasion through exemplary vision, promptness, generosity, transparency, and with a “spirit of oneness” with the citizens in their struggles and hope for a Nagaland that triumphs over Covid-19 as well as the ills that plague our polity. We also urge the citizens to cooperate with you in your endeavour. Thank you.

Yours sincerely

Concerned alumni and research scholars of JNU from Nagaland

Limasenla Jamir, Chibenthung Yanthan, Neikolie Kuotsu, Thepfulhoukho Kuotsu, Honjem Konyak, Akhum Longkumer, Rebecca Chohwanglim         

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