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Unlock norms dilute power of states, DMs


NEW DELHI: The Union government has used “unlock” guidelines over the past four month to dilute the powers of state governments and district administrations to keep them from imposing arbitrary restrictions, local lockdown and sealing of borders. The first phase of unlock directives came on May 30, after more than 65 days of lockdown, when the home ministry asked the states to first publicise any restrictions they were imposing “based on reasons of public health”.

With several states demanding e-approval for intra-state travel, the ministry said in its ‘unlock 2’ guidelines effective from July 1 that “no separate permission will be required for interstate and intra state movement of goods and persons”.

Despite the Centre’s directives, though, the local administrations of Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Faridabad – all within states ruled by the BJP – imposed lockdown restrictions on movement of people between Delhi and National Capital Region. This prompted Union home minister Amit Shah to hold coordination meetings with the chief ministers and district magistrates of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi in June to devise a common strategy to combat the pandemic.

In the fourth and fifth phases of unlock guidelines, the Centre took away powers from district authorities to impose local lockdown, outside the containment zones, without prior consultation with the central government, according to the ministry. It also quashed the concept of “buffer zones”, a demarcated area beyond containment zones for contact tracing, after August 31. States such as West Bengal, Gujarat and Maharashtra, where lockdown guidelines were being allegedly flouted, were told “not to dilute the national directives”. To bridge the gaps, inter-ministerial central teams were deputed to these states. The mandatory use of Aarogya Setu app and privacy concerns prompted the Centre to further modify its guidelines, said officials.

On Wednesday, the home ministry announced ‘unlock 5’ guidelines, permitting opening of cinemas, halls, multiplexes, entertainment parks and swimming pools from October 15. In ‘unlock 4’, the gathering of people for social, academic, sports, entertainment, cultural, religious and political functions was capped at 100 people. Under the new rules, the ceiling has been increased to 200 people or half the capacity of the hall, ahead of the festivals of Durga Puja, Dussehra and the first phase of Bihar assembly election. For reopening of schools and coaching institutions, state governments and Union Territories have been given the flexibility to take a decision from October 15 in a graded manner.

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