As of April 22, Uttar Pradesh has seen 1,449 cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and accounts for 6.8% of the total cases in India. Of the 1,449 persons infected of the disease, 173 have recovered and 21 have died (3.1% of the total deaths in India due to the disease). These proportions are quite lower as compared to the state’s share in the country’s population (16.5% as per Census 2011). However, the same holds for the number of persons tested for COVID-19 as well, as of the 4.85 lakh persons tested in India, 37,490 persons (7.7%) have been tested in Uttar Pradesh.
To mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the state, the state government has taken various measures over the past 2-3 months, spanning across areas such as health, law and order, and social welfare. This includes imposition of lockdown in 16 districts starting March 23, which was extended to the entire state on March 24, before the nation-wide lockdown came into effect. This blog post looks at the key measures taken by the state government in response to COVID-19 and the lockdown.
Before the lockdown
One of the earliest steps the state government took in response to COVID-19 was on January 27, when it planned to set up a 10-bed isolation ward in every district hospital and medical college, and increased vigilance on the Indo-Nepal border and airports. Subsequently, on March 15, it ordered all travellers coming from foreign countries to be kept under surveillance and quarantine for a period of 14 days. Between March 13 and March 17, the government ordered the closure of educational institutions, cinema halls, museums, and tourist spots to prevent public gatherings. On March 20, this was extended to include malls, and all religious, social, and cultural activities. Further, to prevent unnecessary crowding, government hospitals were ordered to provide emergency services only.
Welfare measures: The state government also undertook certain relief measures to provide aid to the persons affected due to COVID-19 and the consequent loss of economic activities. These include: (i) free treatment for all persons infected with COVID-19, (ii) order to all employers to provide 28-days paid leave to infected or quarantined persons under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, (iii) another order under the Act to all shops and factories to provide paid leave to all workers if the government orders temporary closure of their business, (iv) free one-month ration to 1.65 crore registered construction workers and daily wage labourers for April, and (v) Rs 1,000 per month of direct cash support to 20.4 lakh registered construction workers, and to 15 lakh street vendors and other unregistered workers.
During the lockdown
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 the society from issues being faced during the lockdown, including UP migrants in other states, and (iii) addressing difficulties being faced in the supply of essential goods and services. For implementation of these measures, the government constituted 11 committees on March 26 for the work related to various departments. On April 13, similar committees were constituted under the respective Ministers.
Medical facilities: On March 23, committees were constituted in each district to determine the process for purchase of emergency medical equipment. On March 25, the government ordered each of the 51 government and private medical colleges in the state to set up isolation wards of 200-300 beds. It also proposed to conduct training programmes at district-level for AYUSH doctors, nursing staff, retired health workers, and officers of army medical corps. This was subsequently made more comprehensive by including lab technicians, ward boys, and sweepers.
Testing: On April 3, the government ordered setting up one testing lab in every medical college, or in a district hospital, in case there is no medical college in the district. On April 20, the government decided to encourage the use of pool testing within the state to contain the spread of COVID-19. It also approved consideration of plasma therapy as a treatment option for COVID-19.
Funding: On April 3, the UP COVID Care Fund was set up for strengthening treatment facilities in medical colleges, and for expenditure on personal protection equipment, test kits, ventilators, isolation and quarantine wards, and telemedicine. Subsequently, two Ordinances were promulgated on April 8 to deduct the salaries and allowances of Ministers, MLAs, and MLCs for 2020-21 by 30% to donate Rs 20 crore to the UP COVID Care Fund. Further, Rs 1,509 crore was made available for the Fund by suspending the Local Area Development scheme for legislators for a period of one year. In addition, the government increased the limit of the Contingency Fund from Rs 600 crore to Rs 1,200 crore through an Ordinance to allow for extra-budgetary expenditure on COVID-19 related measures.
Hotspots: On April 8, the government sealed the hotspot areas across the state by prohibiting any movement in the area. Only medical, sanitisation, and doorstep delivery teams are allowed to enter and exit the hotspot areas, and all enterprises are required to be completely closed. The government has also ordered for door-to-door checking of the residents living in hotspot areas.
Essential goods and services
Other than the distribution of ration, the state government is providing food to persons staying in night shelters, with community kitchens being set up for persons who are unable to cook. On April 17, the government made access to the Public Distribution System (PDS) universal till June 30, irrespective of the availability of ration card and Aadhaar card. In case of death of a person, his ration card, maintenance allowance, and other benefits will be provided to his family as per their eligibility.
To prevent profiteering from sale of essential goods, on March 28, the government ordered the shopkeepers to display the price list in their shops. On March 29, the government decided that the supply of electricity and water will be ensured and these connections will not be cut for one month. Subsequently, it also ordered that fixed charges for electricity will not be levied for industries during the period of lockdown. On April 3, the government ordered banks to remain open on holidays so that government relief assistance is available to the beneficiaries.
From other states: On March 26, the state government decided that migrant workers travelling through the state to other states such as Bihar will be provided food and shelter, and sent safely to their destination. Subsequently, on March 28, the government decided to prepare the list of migrants who came to the state, provide them food, and keep them under surveillance and quarantine. On April 22, the government allowed migrants from other states to go back to their home state if the respective state government decides to take them back.
From UP: The state government requested other states to provide food and shelter to the migrants from UP present in their states, and requested the migrants to stay where they are. To provide further support to migrants, the state government appointed senior administrative and police officials as nodal officers for each state where migrants from UP might be present. These nodal officers are the main points of contact for migrants living in the respective states. They are also responsible for coordinating with the respective state government and local administration to ensure the essential needs of migrants such as food and shelter are met, and alleviate their difficulties, if any.
On April 19, the government brought nearly 8,000 students who were studying in Kota back to the state. The government allowed them to be kept in quarantine in their homes provided they download the Aarogya Setu app.
The state government is encouraging the purchase of produce by Farmer Producer Organisations directly from farms as an alternate option to mandis. On April 13, the government formed a committee of officials to prepare a workplan for attracting investment made by countries such as USA and Japan, which is moving out of China, to the state. In this regard, the government is planning to contact the embassies of various countries. On April 19, it constituted another committee to work towards providing employment to about 5 lakh migrant workers who have returned to the state in the last 45 days. On April 20, the government also allowed construction work on expressway projects to begin after preparation of an action plan. In line with the advisories issued by the central government, the state government decided to provide relaxations from the lockdown in districts with less than 10 cases starting April 20. The district administrations are preparing action plans for opening up industries in these districts, excluding the ones situated in the hotspot areas.
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.