With the spread of COVID-19, along with the central government, state governments have also announced several policy decisions to contain and prevent the spread of the virus.  In this blog post, we summarise some of the key measures taken by the government of West Bengal in this regard as of April 18, 2020. 

As of April 18, 2020, there have been 287 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in West Bengal. Of these, 55 have been discharged and 10 have died.  To manage patients, there are 66 COVID hospitals, eight testing laboratories, and 582 institutional quarantine centres in the state. 


Early response: Leading up to lockdown

Between January and February, the state government's efforts were aimed at raising awareness among citizens on COVID-19.  These include advisories on observing precautionary measures, and informing citizens on travel restrictions, home isolation, and screening protocols for foreign returnees.

On March 2, the state government responded to the growing number of suspected cases by issuing guidelines for preparedness by government medical colleges and hospitals.   These covered admission, isolation and management of suspected COVID-19 cases.  These instructions were extended to private medical colleges and hospitals on March 7.  A week later, the government issued protocols for monitoring travellers at various state checkposts by joint teams of state police and paramedical staff, and for reference of symptomatic patients to isolation facilities in the district.  All cases had to be reported on a daily basis to district surveillance teams.  The government also announced the closure of all educational institutions in the state (government and private) till March 31.  

On March 16, the government notified the West Bengal Epidemic Disease COVID-19 Regulations, 2020.  These regulations specify screening and treatment protocol for COVID-19 patients, and empower the district administration to take containment measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.   

The next day, the state reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19.  The government proceeded to issue orders: (i) for segregating isolation wards for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases, (ii) specifying treatment protocols for confirmed cases, (iii) establishing medical boards in all COVID-19 hospitals with representation from different medical disciplines, and (iv) establishing fever clinics for suspected patients.  Anganwadi centres and creches were also closed, with provisions to ensure supply of two kilograms of rice and potatoes to each beneficiary.  

On March 21, the government ordered the closure of certain establishments to restrict non-essential social gatherings till March 31, 2020.  This included closure of restaurants, clubs, amusement parks, and museums.  Further, all trains entering the state and inter-state buses were banned till March 31, 2020.

Subsequently, the government announced a lockdown.  In addition to steps for physical containment, the government also undertook various health and welfare measures.  These are detailed below.

Measures taken post-lockdown

On March 22, a lockdown was announced in 23 areas of the state until March 27.  Restrictions during the lockdown included: (i) prohibition on public gatherings of over seven people, (ii) suspension of public transport, and (iii) closure of shops, commercial establishments, offices and factories.  Establishments providing essential goods and services such as health services, print media, banks, groceries, and e-commerce delivery of food and groceries, were excluded from the restrictions.  Over the next few weeks, steps were taken to expand these exemptions, and to regulate the movement of goods and services.

  • List of essential goods and services:  On March 24, the lockdown was extended till March 31 in the entire state, and the exemptions were expanded to include industries producing coal, power, steel, or fertilisers.   After the centre notified a 21-day lockdown, the list of exemptions in the state was gradually expanded to include agricultural operations, fish production, tea garden operations, and operations in krishak bazars for marketing agricultural produce.  At the same time, restrictions were placed on hoarding of masks and hand sanitisers.  

  • Last week, after the central government extended the lockdown till May 3,  orders were passed for resumption of government offices from April 20 onwards at a strength of 25% of workforce.  Similar permission was also granted for restricted operations in jute mills, and IT/IT enabled services.  

  • Regulating movement of goods and services:  A pass system was introduced on March 25 to regulate the movement of persons supplying essential goods and services.  Transportation of non-essential cargo was prohibited till March 31, 2020.  However, as a one-time measure, permission was granted on March 26 to such vehicles to reach their destination.  Two days later, the government ordered for the seamless movement of commodities in all district borders and interstate areas. 

Health Measures

On March 26, a Committee of Experts was constituted to advise on strategies for isolation, quarantine, testing, health infrastructure, and disease prevention.  The Committee has been issuing protocols on clinical management of COVID-19 cases.  The government also established various monitoring committees on setting up isolation hospitals, managing critical care, and to audit the cause of deaths related to COVID-19 patients.  

To respond to the increasing number of patients, the government acquired private healthcare facilities in April.  Further, to expand its testing capacity, the government recommended sample pooling for COVID-19 testing yesterday.

In addition to these measures, the government also issued several guidelines, advisories and orders on containment of the virus, patient handling and protecting healthcare workers.  Some of these are detailed below: 

  • For healthcare facilities:  Advisory for setting up of isolation facilities, orders for establishment of fever clinics to segregate patients with severe symptoms, separation zones for suspected cases to protect healthcare personnel, and use of hydroxychloroquine for asymptomatic healthcare workers.

  • For government:  Guidelines for cluster containment and treatment strategies to contain COVID-19 in hi-risk spots, directions for awareness generation among rural population for containment, and arranging for counselling sessions for quarantined patients.

Welfare/Austerity Measures

  • Creation of relief fund:  The “West Bengal State Emergency Relief Fund” was created on March 23 to mobilise additional resources to cope with the emergency.  On April 2, austerity measures were announced by the government.   These include prohibition on announcement of new schemes, unless required in urgent public interest.

  • Distribution of food:  Free entitlement of wheat and rice was announced on March 26 to beneficiaries under some food subsidy schemes (including the Antyodaya Anna Yojana) until September, 2020.

  • Measures for workers:   Directions were notified in March for provisions on shelter, food, quarantine, wage payment, and continued tenancy for workers.   

  • Free insurance cover was announced on April 1 for treatment of certain categories of persons, including heathcare workers, and police.

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.