As of April 26, Rajasthan has 2,083 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (fifth highest in the country), of which 493 have recovered and 33 have died.  On March 18, the Rajasthan government had declared a state-wide curfew till March 31, to check the spread of the disease.  A nation-wide lockdown has also been in place since March 25 and is currently, extended up to May 3.  The state has announced several policy decisions to prevent the spread of the virus and provide relief for those affected by it.  This blog summarises the key policy measures taken by the Government of Rajasthan in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early measures for containment

Between late January and early February, Rajasthan Government’s measures were aimed towards identification, screening and testing, and constant monitoring of passenger arrivals from China.  Instructions were also issued to district health officials for various prevention, treatment, & control related activities, such as (i) mandatory 28-day home isolation for all travellers from China, (ii) running awareness campaigns, and (iii) ensuring adequate supplies of Personal Protection Equipments (PPEs).  Some of the other measures, taken prior to the state-wide lockdown, are summarised below:

Administrative measures

  • The government announced the formation of Rapid Response Teams (RRTs), at the medical college-level and at district-level on March 3 and 5, respectively.

  • The District Collector was appointed as the Nodal Officer for all COVID-19 containment activities.  Control Rooms were to be opened at all Sub-divisional offices.  The concerned officers were also directed to strengthen information dissemination mechanisms and tackle the menace of fake news.

  • Directives were issued on March 11 to rural health workers/officials to report for duty on Gazetted holidays.  Further, government departments were shut down between March 22 and March 31.  Only essential departments such as Health Services were allowed to function on a rotation basis at 50% capacity and special / emergency leaves were permitted. 

Travel and Movement

Health Measures

  • Advisories regarding prevention and control measures were issued to: (i) District Collectors, regarding sample collection and transportation, hotels, and preparedness of hospitals, (ii) Police department, to stop using breath analysers, (iii) Private hospitals, regarding preparedness and monitoring activities, and (iv) Temple trusts, to disinfect their premises with chemicals. 

  • The government issued Standard Operating Procedures for conducting mock drills in emergency response handling of COVID-19 cases.  Training and capacity building measures were also initiated for (i) Railways, Army personnel etc and (ii) ASHA workers, through video conferencing. 

  • A model micro-plan for containing local transmission of COVID was released.  Key features of the plan include: (i) identification and mapping of affected areas, (ii) activities for prevention control, surveillance, and contact tracing, (iii) human resource management, including roles and responsibilities, (iv) various infrastructural and logistical support, such as hospitals, labs etc, and (v) communication and data management.

  • Resource Management: Private hospitals and medical colleges were instructed to reserve 25 % of beds for COVID-19 patients.  They were also instructed to utilise faculty from the departments of Preventive and Social Medicine to conduct health education and awareness activities. 

  • Over 6000 Students of nursing schools were employed in assisting the health department to conduct screening activities being conducted at public places, railways stations, bus stands etc.

  • Further, the government issued guidelines to ensure the rational use of PPEs.

Welfare Measures

During the lockdown

State-wide curfew announced on March 18 has been followed by a nation-wide lockdown between March 25 and May 3. However, certain relaxations have been recommended by the state government from April 21 onwards.  Some of the key measures undertaken during the lockdown period are: 

Administrative Measures

  • Advisory groups and task forces were set up on – (i) COVID-19 prevention, (ii) Health and Economy, and (iii) Higher education.  These groups will provide advice on the way forward for (i) prevention and containment activities, (ii) post-lockdown strategies and strategies to revive the economy, and (iii) to address the challenges facing the higher education sector respectively. 

  • Services of retiring medical and paramedical professionals retiring between March and August have been extended till September 2020. 

Essential Goods and Services

  • A Drug Supply Control Room was set up at the Rajasthan Pharmacy Council.  This is to ensure uninterrupted supply of medicines during the lockdown and will also assist in facilitating home delivery of medicines.

  • The government permitted Fair Price Shops to sell products such as masalas, sanitisers, and hygiene products, in addition to food grains.

  • Village service cooperatives were declared as secondary markets to facilitate farmers to sell their produce near their own fields/villages during the lockdown. 

  • A Whatsapp helpline was also set up for complaints regarding hoarding, black marketing, and overpricing.

Travel and Movement

  • Once lockdown was in place, the government issued instructions to identify, screen, and categorise people from other states who have travelled to Rajasthan.  They were to be categorised into: (i) people displaying symptoms to be put in isolation wards, (ii) people over 60 years of age with symptoms and co-morbidities to be put in quarantine centres, and (iii) asymptomatic people to be home quarantined.

  • On March 28, the government announced the availability of buses to transport people during the lockdown.  Further, stranded students in Kota were allowed to return to their respective states. 

  • On April 2, a portal and a helpline were launched to help stranded foreign tourists and NRIs.

  • On April 11, an e-pass facility was launched for movement of people and vehicles. 

Health Measures

  • To identify COVID-19 patients, district officials were instructed to monitor people with ARI/URI/Pneumonia or other breathing difficulties coming into hospital OPDs.  Pharmacists were also instructed to not issue medicines for cold/cough without prescriptions. 

  • A mobile app – Raj COVID Info – was developed by the government for tracking of quarantined people.  Quarantined persons are required to send their selfie clicks at regular intervals, failing which a notification would be sent by the app.  The app also provides a lot of information on COVID-19, such as the number of cases, and press releases by the government.

  • Due to the lockdown, people had restricted access to hospitals and treatment.  Thus, instructions were issued to utilise Mobile Medical Vans for treatment/screening and also as mobile OPDs

  • On April 20, a detailed action plan for prevention and control of COVID-19 was released.  The report recommended: (i) preparation of a containment plan, (ii) formation of RRTs, (iii) testing protocols, (iv) setting up of control room and helpline, (v) designated quarantine centres and COVID-19 hospitals, (vi) roles and responsibilities, and (vii) other logistics. 

Welfare Measures

  • The government issued instructions to make medicines available free of cost to senior citizens and other patients with chronic illnesses through the Chief Minister’s Free Medicine Scheme.  

  • Rs 60 crore was allotted to Panchayati Raj Institutions to purchase PPEs and for other prevention activities. 

  • A one-time cash transfer of Rs 1000 to over 15 lakh construction workers was announced.  Similar cash transfer of Rs 1000 was announced for poor people who were deprived of livelihood during the lockdown, particularly those people with no social security benefits.  Eligible families would be selected through the Aadhaar database.  Further, an additional cash transfer of Rs 1500 to needy eligible families from different categories was announced.

  • The state also announced an aid of Rs 50 lakh to the families of frontline workers who lose their lives due to COVID-19.

  • To maintain social distancing, the government will conduct a door-to-door distribution of ration to select beneficiaries in rural areas of the state.  The government also announced the distribution of free wheat for April, May, and June, under the National Food Security Act, 2013.  Ration will also be distributed to stranded migrant families from Pakistan, living in the state.

  • The government announced free tractor & farming equipment on rent in tie-up with farming equipment manufacturers to assist economically weak small & marginal farmers.

Other Measures

  • Education: Project SMILE was launched to connect students and teachers online during the lockdown.  Study material would be sent through specially formed Whatsapp groups.  For each subject, 30-40 minute content videos have been prepared by the Education Department.

  • Industry:  On April 18, new guidelines were issued for industries and enterprises to resume operations from April 20 onwards.  Industries located in rural areas or export units / SEZs in municipal areas where accommodation facilities for workers are present, are allowed to function.  Factories have been permitted to increase the working hours from 8 hours to 12 hours per day, to reduce the requirement of workers in factories.  This exemption has been allowed for the next three months for factories operating at 60% to 65% of manpower capacity.

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.