On March 22, Bihar registered its first two cases of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), one of whom died the same day. Since then, the number of cases has increased steadily. As of April 19, Bihar has 86 confirmed cases of COVID-19, of which 47 are active cases and 37 have recovered. 33 new cases have been registered since last week. One more death has been registered since March 22.
Given the highly contagious nature of the disease, on March 22, the Government of Bihar announced a state-wide lockdown till March 31. This was followed by a nation-wide lockdown enforced by the central government between March 25 and April 14, now extended up to May 3. During the lockdown, severe restrictions have been placed on the movement of individuals. Establishments have remained closed, except those providing essential goods and services. Restrictions are likely to be relaxed in less-affected districts post-April 20.
In this blog, we look at key measures taken by the state government in response to COVID-19 so far.
Early-stage: screening of travellers, awareness on precautionary measures
The initial responses from the state government were aimed towards: (i) raising awareness about precautionary measures to be taken against the disease, and (ii) screening of international travellers. In this context, on February 25, the Bihar State Health Society issued advisories for: (i) measures to be taken in schools and colleges, and (ii) reporting of airline passengers and tourists with symptomatic cases to the district health administration. On March 11, 104 Call Centre was designated as the COVID-19 control room, to address public queries related to the disease.
Prior to lockdown: limiting mass gatherings, mobilisation of the public health system
Limiting mass gatherings
Between March 13 and March 18, the state government issued orders to shut down various premises until March 31. These include Anganwadi centres, educational institutions, and commercial establishments such as cinema halls, parks, and shopping malls. The government staff was directed to come to office on alternate days. Gathering of more than 50 persons at one place was prohibited including any mass family gathering (except marriages). The transport department was asked to restrict both public and private transport.
On March 13, the government issued directions to: (i) ensure availability of 100 extra ventilators in the government hospitals, (ii) arrange for testing of COVID-19 in AIIMS, Patna and PMCH, Patna hospitals, and (iii) cancel leaves of all employees of the Health Department, and (iv) strengthen screening of travellers entering through the Bihar-Nepal border.
On March 17, the Health Department issued The Bihar Epidemic Diseases, COVID-19 Regulation 2020 under The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. The Act provides for better prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases. These regulations specify the protocol to be followed in both private and government hospitals for screening and treatment of COVID-19 patients. It also empowers the district administration to take containment measures including sealing of specific areas and conducting surveillance for COVID-19 cases. It makes spreading of rumour or unauthenticated information with mala fide intent a punishable offence.
On March 16, the Chief Minister announced that treatment costs for COVID-19 for residents of Bihar will be sponsored from the Chief Minister Medical Assistance Fund. Moreover, the state government will provide assistance of four lakh rupees to the family of a person dying due to COVID-19.
The government issued directions to provide direct cash transfer in place of the food provided under the Mid-Day Meal scheme in schools, and at Anganwadi centres.
Essential goods and services
On March 21, the Food and Consumer Protection Department directed the district administration to ensure implementation of the Bihar Essential Article (Display of Prices and Stocks) Order, 1977. The Order requires sellers of specified items to display stock and price for the public’s reference. The specified items include food items, edible oilseeds, and petroleum products. The Department also directed the district administration to send proposals for adding any new items to the list of specified items.
During lockdown: strengthening medical response, welfare measures
Upon announcement of the lockdown on March 22, state-level and district-level coordination committees were set up. During the lockdown, the state government’s measures have been aimed towards: (i) strengthening the medical response in the state, (ii) providing relief to various sections of society from issues being faced during the lockdown, and (iii) addressing difficulties with the supply of essential goods and services.
On March 25, the Health Department constituted the Bihar COVID-19 Emergency Response Team which is responsible for the control and coordination of all health-related response.
Protocols for containment and treatment: Directions have been issued to implement several guidelines related to containment and treatment measures. These include: (i) set up and operationalization of isolation centres and quarantine centres, (ii) containment plan to address local transmission and community transmission through cluster containment strategy, (iii) surveillance program for Influenza-like Illness (ILI) and Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI), (iv) handling of waste generated during treatment/diagnosis/quarantine, and (v) sanitation of residence and nearby areas of a COVID-19 positive person.
Door-to-door screening campaign: On April 14, the Chief Minister issued directions to start door-to-door screening campaign for suspected cases in affected districts including Siwan, Begusarai, and Nalanda. Such screening campaign will also be run in districts in border-areas, and an area within 3 km radius of the residence of COVID-19 positive patients.
Increasing manpower: The government invited medical professionals including doctors, nurses, and paramedics to volunteer. It also directed the district administration to engage retired doctors, nurses, and paramedics from defence services for volunteer work. Leaves of all employees of the Health Department were cancelled until April 30. The Health Department deputed AYUSH practitioners to assist at isolation and quarantine centres.
Dedicated infrastructure for COVID-19: On April 5, certain government hospitals were designated as exclusive hospitals for treatment of COVID-19 patients. The Health Department also directed certain big private hospitals in Patna to stop OPD services.
Other health-related measures: On March 23, the state government announced payment of one-month basic salary as an incentive to all doctors and health workers. On April 13, the Health Department issued an order prohibiting spitting in public places by tobacco, cigarette, and Pan users. Further, the state government announced that it will procure test kits from the private sector.
Relief package: On March 23, the state government announced a relief package for people affected due to lockdown. Key features of the relief package are:
ration of one-month to all ration cardholders for free,
one-time cash transfer of Rs 1,000 per family to ration cardholders,
payment of pensions for three months in advance to all pensioners including pension for old age persons, widows, and physically challenged, and
release of pending scholarships to all students.
Help for migrants: On March 26, Rs 100 crore was allocated from the Chief Minister Relief Fund to provide aid to the migrants from Bihar stuck in other parts of the country due to the lockdown. On April 2, the state government announced that a one-time cash transfer of Rs 1,000 will be provided to the migrants. On April 13, an additional Rs 50 crore was allocated from the Relief Fund for this purpose. State-wise nodal officers have been appointed for coordination of relief efforts for migrants. The state government is running 10 food centres in Delhi to help migrants from Bihar.
Relief camps: On March 28, the state government decided to start relief camps along the border (including Nepal border) offering food, shelter, and medical help to persons coming in the state. Community kitchens and relief camps have been started in government school campuses to provide food and shelter.
Electricity tariff: On April 8, the State Cabinet approved the proposals for: (i) reducing electricity tariff for domestic and agricultural consumers by 10 paise per unit and (ii) waiving the monthly meter fee.
Measures for businesses and agricultural activities
The state government provided certain relaxations to businesses in matters related to taxation. These include:
extension in the deadline for payment of GST from March 31 to June 30, no interest or penalty charges to be levied for late payment in certain cases,
three-month extension in the deadline for one-time settlement scheme for pre-GST tax disputes, and
cancellation of orders regarding attachment of bank accounts of certain tax defaulters.
On April 16, the Chief Minister issued directions to start procurement of wheat through the Primary Agriculture Credit Society (PACS).
Essential goods and services
Various departments issued guidelines to the district administration to facilitate operational continuity of essential goods and services including (i) food items, (ii) seeds, fertilisers, and other agriculture-related items, (iii) livestock fodder, and (iv) petroleum products.
On March 27, the Food and Consumer Protection Department brought certain new items under the purview of The Bihar Essential Article (Display of Prices and Stocks) Order, 1977. These include: (i) wheat and wheat products, (ii) masks and hand sanitisers, and (iii) potato and onion.
Education: On April 8, the cabinet approved the proposal to promote students of Class I to XI (except class X) without annual examination.
Legislature: Salaries of MLAs and MLCs have been reduced by 15% for one year. The amount will be donated to the state’s Corona relief fund.
Labour and employment: On April 16, the Chief Minister issued directions to resume public works under the Saat Nischay Programme, Jal Jeevan Hariyali Yojana, and MNREGA.
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.
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.