Current Public Administration Magazine (APRIL 2020)

Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine

1. Accountability and Responsibility

We must act responsibly, but government must also answer

When I arrived at the Delhi airport on the last flight from London, after the Indian government had issued a travel ban, the world had already known much about the deadly COVID-19 from the experiences of people in China and other affected countries. Visuals of the Chinese response to the pandemic — a temporary 1,000-bed hospital built in a matter of days, for example — were telling. The WHO had declared the outbreak a pandemic. We knew about the virility of the coronavirus, even when Iran and Italy were just about emerging as new epicentres.

India had substantial time in hand to learn from the data and practices of other affected countries. But the first travel advisory from the government — informing people that travellers from China be quarantined — was issued as late as February 5. And, it wasn‘t before March 2, that the government began looking at travellers from other countries as potential carriers.

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2. Indian Government and Politics

MPLADS is nimble tool for targeted intervention, scrapping it in crisis is counterproductive

With a brusque proclamation on April 6, the government decided to suspend operation of the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) for the next two financial years, and divert Rs 7,900 crore to the fight against COVID-19. The decision is both misconceived and mischievous. It would subvert the fight against COVID-19 rather than strengthen it.

It is important to understand the MPLADS, and why these resources are needed now more than ever. In the classical constitutional construct premised upon the principle of separation of powers, the legislature is not supposed to play an executive role. It is charged with the remit of enacting legislation and exercising sharp oversight over government functioning.

However, in any developing nation, the aspiration for better quality public goods and an enhanced standard of living is a legitimate desire. The expectation, therefore, from public representatives to contribute to this paradigm is strong.

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3. Significant Issues in Indian Administration

Success of lockdown will depend on implementation

India has been in a complete lockdown since March 25. Its 1.3 billion people, except for those providing essential services, are confined to their homes. In effect, this began three days earlier and might well continue beyond April 14. The rationale is to slow down the spread of COVID-19, and to reduce the peak level of infections, breaking the chain of transmission through social distancing. The objective of saving lives is unexceptionable.

However, for the well-being of people, saving livelihoods is just as important. Given the massive population and our dilapidated public health system, it might seem that a total lockdown is the only way to manage the spread of the virus. But this is not a fail-safe solution. The outcomes will depend upon its feasibility and implementation. Social, or physical, distancing is feasible among people who live in homes that have doors providing private spaces but is impossible in urban slums or shanty-towns where people live cheek-by-jowl, or even in rural India where the poor live in cramped spaces. The lockdown might simply distance the poor from the rest.

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4. Current Topic

Need to strike right balance between public health and individual’s right to privacy

The novel coronavirus outbreak has brought into sharp focus the promise and perils of data surveillance in the healthcare sector. As India faces an unprecedented public health crisis that has resulted in a countrywide lockdown, policymakers are trying to figure out exit strategies. Ultimately, lockdowns are brute force instruments and are unsustainable over long periods of
time. To bring daily life back to normal at the earliest, some governments are deploying apps for self-diagnosis, contact tracing, quarantine and curfew passes as mitigation strategies. For example, the Indian government has launched the Aarogya Setu app for contact tracing, and as a medium for sharing authentic information with citizens.

At this moment, when all of India is faced with a 21-day lockdown (and perhaps a partial lockdown after 21 days), that is estimated to cost $120 billion, privacy seems to be the least of our worries. However, privacy is a fundamental right of every citizen and the state has the primary responsibility of upholding this right. For example, when the COVID quarantine lists that help identify affected individuals are released in the public domain, the privacy of those individuals is violated, leading to social ostracisation.

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5. Financial Administration

Policing a lockdown: Every day brings challenges, heartbreaks, acts of inspiration

May you live in interesting times. Though this oft-repeated English expression is perhaps wrongly attributed to the Chinese, these are certainly interesting times — with a controversial Chinese connection. At the time of writing, the COVID-19 virus, widely believed to have originated in China, has infected more than 7,75,000 people across the world and killed more than 37,000. In India, it has mercifully had a slow start, with more than 1,600 infections and less than 50 casualties till April 2, despite the first case being detected two months ago on January 30.

Quite rightly, the government of India has paid heed to the devastation abroad, and imposed a 21-day lockdown across the country beginning March 23. Nothing of this scale has ever been attempted in human history. In the second week of the lockdown, it is hard to predict its effect on arresting the impact of the COVID-19 by April 14. For all those entrusted with enforcing the lockdown, and catering to the infected patients, the next two weeks are sure to stretch and challenge us in unimaginable ways. There was never a scarier time to be in uniform. There was never a more inspiring time to be in uniform

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