As of May 5, Assam has 43 confirmed cases of COVID-19.  Of these, 32 have been cured, and 1 person has died.  In this blog, we summarise some key decisions taken by the Government of Assam until May 5 for containing the spread of the pandemic in the state.

Movement Restrictions

For containing the spread of COVID-19 in the state, the Government of Assam took the following measures for restricting the movement of people in the state.  On March 19, the Department of Health and Family Welfare issued an order for closure of all museums, libraries, coaching centers among others until March 31.

Lockdown: To further restrict the movement of individuals, in order to contain the spread of the disease, the state government enforced a state-wide lockdown from March 24 to March 31.  The lockdown involved: (i) sealing the state borders, (ii) suspension of public transport services, (iii) closure of all commercial establishments, offices, and factories, and (iv) banning the congregation of more than five people at any public place.   Establishments providing essential goods and services were excluded from the lockdown restrictions.  Limited rituals were allowed in places of worship without any community participation.

This was followed by a nation-wide lockdown enforced by the central government between March 25 and April 14, now extended till May 18.  Starting from May 4, based on the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines, the state government has allowed certain activities with restrictions in green zones of the state.  Activities such as e-commerce for all commodities, construction activities in urban areas, functioning of government and private offices among others are being allowed in green zones.

Health Measures

The Assam COVID-19 regulations, 2020: On March 18, the government issued the Assam COVID-19 regulations, 2020.   These regulations are valid for one year.  Key features of the regulations are as follows: 

  • All government and private hospitals should have separate corners for the screening of COVID patients.  Further, they should record the travel history of such persons during screening,

  • No hospital can refuse the treatment of suspected/ confirmed COVID-19 cases,

  • People travelled through affected areas must voluntarily report to the authorities, and

  • District administration can take necessary measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, such as (i) sealing a geographical area, (ii) restricting the movement of vehicles and people, and (iii) initiating active and passive surveillance of COVID-19 cases.

The Assam COVID-19 Containment Regulations, 2020: On March 21, the government issued the Assam COVID-19 Containment Regulations, 2020.  These regulations detail the measures to be taken in case of community transmission within a geographical area.  These include enhanced active surveillance, testing of all suspected cases, isolation of cases and home quarantine of contacts, among others. 

Guidelines to Airports:  On March 18, the government issued instructions regarding procedures to be followed at the airports for the screening of passengers.  The guidelines allocate responsibilities such as thermal screening of passengers, counselling, transportation of passengers among others to various teams at the airports.

Medical colleges and Hospitals: On March 23, the Department of Health and Family Welfare directed all medical colleges and district hospitals to set up isolation wards.  On March 27, the Department of Health and Family Welfare released measures to be followed in medical colleges and hospitals.  These include: (i) seven days of training on critical care to all doctors, nurses, final year students of bachelor programs and Postgraduate students, (ii) Principals should set up a core team in every college for managing COVID-19 patients, among others.

Welfare measures

Food distribution: On March 28, the government decided to provide gratuitous relief such as rice, pulses among others to all wage earners, slum dwellers, rickshaw pullers, homeless, and migrant labourers living in municipal towns for seven days.

Minor Forest Produce (MFP): For enhancing the income of tribal farmers, the government revised rates of 10 MFPs such as honey, hill broom and added 26 new MFPs for Minimum support price in the state. 

One-time financial assistance for persons stranded outside India: On March 22, the government announced one-time financial assistance of $2,000 to residents of Assam stranded in foreign countries.  People who went abroad 30 days before the stoppage of international flights (on March 22) and are unable to return will receive this financial assistance.

Administrative measures

  • On March 21, the government constituted the task force at the State level and District level for implementation of various measures for containment of COVID-19 in the state. 

  • On April 2, the government constituted a committee for monitoring and checking of fake news across all forms of media.

  • On April 29, the Department of Finance announced certain austerity measures in the context of the fiscal situation that arose due to COVID-19. These include suspension of MLA area development funds from April to July 2020, reduction in establishment expenditure, and a ban on the purchase of vehicles by the government (except ambulances and for policy duty).

For more information on the spread of COVID-19, and the central and state government response to the pandemic, please see here.

The National Anti-Doping Bill, 2021 is listed for passage in Rajya Sabha today.  It was passed by Lok Sabha last week.  The Bill creates a regulatory framework for anti-doping rule violations in sports.  It was examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports, and some of their recommendations have been incorporated in the Bill passed by Lok Sabha.  

Doping is the consumption of certain prohibited substances by athletes to enhance performance.  Across the world, doping is regulated and monitored by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which is an independent international agency established in 1999.   WADA’s primary role is to develop, harmonise, and coordinate anti-doping regulations across all sports and countries.   It does so by ensuring proper implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADA Code) and its standards.  In this blog post, we discuss the need of the framework proposed by the Bill, and give insights from the discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha.  

Doping in India

Recently, two Indian athletes failed the doping test and are facing provisional suspension.   In the past also, Indian athletes have been found in violation of anti-doping rules.  In 2019, according to WADA, most of the doping rule violations were committed by athletes from Russia (19%), followed by Italy (18%), and India (17%).  Most of the doping rule violations were committed in bodybuilding (22%), followed by athletics (18%), cycling (14%), and weightlifting (13%).  In order to curb doping in sports, WADA requires all countries to have a framework regulating anti-doping activities managed by their respective National Anti-Doping Organisations.  

Currently, doping in India is regulated by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), which was established in 2009 as an autonomous body under the Societies Registration Act, 1860.  One issue with the existing framework is that the anti-doping rules are not backed by a legislation and are getting challenged in courts.  Further, NADA is imposing sanctions on athletes without a statutory backing.   Taking into account such instances, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2021) had recommended that the Department of Sports bring in an anti-doping legislation.   Other countries such as the USA, UK, Germany, and Japan have enacted legislations to regulate anti-doping activities.  

Framework proposed by the National Anti-Doping Bill, 2021

The Bill seeks to constitute NADA as a statutory body headed by a Director General appointed by the central government.  Functions of the Agency include planning, implementing and monitoring anti-doping activities, and investigating anti-doping rule violations.  A National Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel will be set up for determining consequences of anti-doping rule violations.  This panel will consist of legal experts, medical practitioners, and retired athletes.  Further, the Board will constitute an Appeal Panel to hear appeals against decisions of the Disciplinary Panel.  Athletes found in violation of anti-doping rules may be subject to: (i) disqualification of results including forfeiture of medals, points, and prizes, (ii) ineligibility to participate in a competition or event for a prescribed period, (iii) financial sanctions, and (iv) other consequences as may be prescribed.  Consequences for team sports will be specified by regulations.   

Initially, the Bill did not have provisions for protected athletes but after the Standing Committee’s recommendation, provisions for such athletes have been included in the Bill.  Protected persons will be specified by the central government.  As per the WADA Code, a protected person is someone: (i) below the age of 16, or (ii) below the age of 18 and has not participated in any international competition in an open category, or (iii) lacks legal capacity as per their country’s legal framework

Issues and discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha

During the discussion on the Bill, members highlighted several issues.  We discuss these below-

Independence of NADA 

One of the issues highlighted was the independence of the Director General of NADA.  WADA requires National Doping Organisations to be independent in their functioning as they may experience external pressure from their governments and national sports bodies which could compromise their decisions.  First, under the Bill, the qualifications of the Director General are not specified and are left to be notified through Rules.  Second, the central government may remove the Director General from the office on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity or “such other ground”.  Leaving these provisions to the discretion of the central government may affect the independence of NADA. 

Privacy of athletes

NADA will have the power to collect certain personal data of athletes such as: (a) sex or gender, (ii) medical history, and (iii) whereabout information of athletes (for out of competition testing and collection of samples).  MPs expressed concerns about maintaining the privacy of athletes.  The Union Sports Minister in his response, assured the House that all international privacy standards will be followed during collection and sharing of data.  Data will be shared with only relevant authorities.

Under the Bill, NADA will collect and use personal data of athletes in accordance with the International Standard for the Protection of Privacy and Personal Information.   It is one of the eight ‘mandatory’ standards of the World Anti-Doping Code.  One of the amendments moved by the Union Sports Minister removed the provision relating to compliance with the International Standard for the Protection of Privacy and Personal Information.

Establishing more testing laboratories across states

Currently India has one National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL).  MPs raised the demand to establish testing laboratories across states to increase testing capacity.  The Minister responded by saying that if required in the future, the government will establish more testing laboratories across states.  Further, in order to increase testing capacity, private labs may also be set up.   The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2022) also emphasised the need to open more dope testing laboratories, preferably one in each state, to cater to the need of the country and become a leader in the South East Asia region in the areas of anti-doping science and education.

In August, 2019 a six-month suspension was imposed on NDTL for not complying with International Standard for Laboratories (ISL) by WADA.  The suspension was extended for another six months in July, 2020 due to non-conformity with ISL.  The second suspension was to remain in effect until the Laboratory complies with ISL.  However, the suspension was extended for another six months in January, 2021 as COVID-19 impacted WADA’s ability to conduct an on-site assessment of the Laboratory.  In December, 2021 WADA reinstated the accreditation of NDTL.

Raising awareness 

Several athletes in India are not aware about the anti-doping rules and the prohibited substances.  Due to lack of awareness, they end up consuming prohibited substances through supplements.  MPs highlighted the need to conduct more awareness campaigns around anti-doping.  The Minister informed the House that in the past one year, NADA has conducted about 100 hybrid workshops relating to awareness on anti-doping.   The Bill will enable NADA to conduct more awareness campaigns and research in anti-doping.  Further, the central government is working with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to test dietary supplements consumed by athletes.  

While examining the Bill, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2022) recommended several measures to improve and strengthen the antidoping ecosystem in the country.  These measures include: (i) enforcing regulatory action towards labelling and use of ‘dope-free’ certified supplements, and (ii) mandating ‘dope-free’ certification by independent bodies for supplements consumed by athletes.