No COVID-19 testing labs in Sikkim yet, SDF terms it as “failure on govt.’s part”

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Screen grab from Sikkim Democratic Front Facebook Live

Gangtok, April 5: The Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) Spokesperson, MK Subba, on Sunday questioned the state government about the lack of test laboratories for COVID-19 in Sikkim, saying that the government is habituated in stating that they are prepared and ready to combat COVID-19 crisis.

Subba was speaking during a video conference hosted through the SDF’s Facebook page. At the outset, he extended the party’s gratitude to the frontline warriors— healthcare personnel, police, civil societies and NGOs amongst others, who are combating the COVID-19. Saying that now India has more than 3000 positive cases with 109 reported deaths so far, Subba hosted this conference to address various issues such as:

Lack of testing facilities in Sikkim-

Asking on the status of setting up laboratories for testing in the state, he said that now it isn’t just a matter in other parts of the world and country, but neighbouring places like Kalimpong and Siliguri have had positive cases. Keeping this in mind, he asked the present government, why they have not set up laboratories in Sikkim?

Asking how the State Government had announced compliance to the Centre Government’s guidelines which had testing, tracing, quarantine and isolation as the solutions for the coronavirus. Quoting the WHO’s situation report on India #9 which dictates that for India to survive this pandemic and prevent community transmission, testing labs are essential for all states of India, he said that Sikkim should focus on setting up testing laboratories. He informed of how the Centre Government now has 200 testing laboratories from 72 laboratories because of the WHO and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines and order.

Also the Disaster Management Act 2005 dictates that in an event of a disaster like the COVID-19 occurs in the country, all state governments have to comply with the orders of the Centre Government’s, thus, Subba claimed that the Sikkim government is not doing the needful. Since the ICMR has dictated that testing protocols are changing frequently, a testing centre for the coronavirus in the state is essential, adding that a testing centre in the new STNM Hospital Sochaykhangs’ 500 sq. feet premises should be announced by the Government.

Usage of Relief Funds and other issues-

Subba claimed that Rs. 500 crore has been kept in the State Bank of Sikkim for use in case of disasters like this and asked, why the government was still waiting for the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF), which is the primary fund available with states for disaster response and is constituted under Section 48 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

“The only reason the state government has not set up testing laboratories is due to a lack of funds. The state government has not made any requisite to the Government of India for economic packages as relief funds for Sikkim,” he said terming it as a “failure on the government’s part.”

The State Disaster Management Authority headed by the Chief Minister, the State Executive Committee under the Chief Secretary’s chairmanship and District Level Task Force headed by the four District Collectors of each district, all had the authority to make a requisition for funds to the Centre Government which they could have done easily under Section 50 of the Disaster Management Act 2005, given that there are no misappropriation of funds, said Subba. He added that despite having top bureaucrats in Sikkim i.e. District Collectors who should have guided the State Government at this time, a month has passed and many government notices and circulars have not implemented completely.

Further, Subba claimed that the state does not have enough proper infrastructure to combat COVID-19 and the state should be prepared for the worst on top of establishing a high-level expert on medical science committee to properly study and head the testing laboratories in Sikkim, while also establishing a proper health bulletin since sample collecting and reporting is not enough and all registration and reports should be brought out to the public.

He went on to say that the Government of Sikkim should do a complete briefing on everything related to the coronavirus according to the Right to Information Article 19, complete transparency should be maintained. He appealed to the Governor, Ganga Prasad to intervene on setting up a testing facility in Sikkim which will give the public confidence

Subba’s advice to the State Government-

Subba also gave some advices to the State Government, some of which are:

  • Sikkim Government should reappropriate the Budget again, putting at least 10% of the earlier budget into the COVID-19 economic package which could amount to Rs. 1000 crores.
  • Another long-term economic relief measure could be establishing an economic advisory committee to sort problems in the state’s economy with involving experts like chartered accountants, Chamber of Commerce, banks and other stakeholders.
  • Panic has confused Government offices thus the state should streamline government departments to properly work all of its functions.
  • According to the Disaster Management Act 2005, there should be no discrimination when distributing relief rations. The distribution of rations as a relief measure has been dictated through various conditions like Government employees including the MR, Adhoc based and OFOJ employees, people who have regular jobs, own a vehicle or a building cannot accept these rations.

He said there should not be any discrimination as one cannot tell the financial problems they are facing. Also in rebuttal to the distribution of coupons instead of ratio, Subba criticized this move of the State Government.

  • The Government of India has announced insurance of Rs. 50 Lakhs to workers who are involved in the combat against the COVID-19, similarly other state governments have declared insurances for the above people, but the Sikkim State Government have given only Rs. 3000 lump sum. Subba went on to request the Government to declare Rs. 1 crore as insurance to all workers involved in the fight against coronavirus.
  • Regarding labourer (MGNREGA) rates declared on 23 March, in three-gram panchayats- Nathang, Lachen and Lachung the daily rate is Rs.308 while in other places the daily wage is Rs.205. During this lockdown, the Government of India has increased Rs. 20 to the wage and not the Government of Sikkim. The Centre Government also announced concerning farmers, come April, the farmers would receive Rs.2000, no such announcements have been made by the State Government instead only numbers in assistance to farmers have been given. Special relief package for farmers and for people who earn lesser than Rs. 15000 also should be announced by the State Government. This is a temporary measure, but permanent solutions should also be sought.
  • Give tax holiday to business owners.
  • Start community kitchens and delivery of food for those who are unable to afford it, which will give employment to youth as well
  • Centre Board of Secondary Education has announced that students up to standard 8 have been promoted, Subba asked why standard 10 & 12 have been ignored by the Sikkim Government. Subba advised the government to clear out this issue.

On the topic of migrant workers, Subba said that the image of migrant workers returning to their home stats was similar to that of the India-Pakistan partition.

He also informed that in the State Bank of Sikkim, a fixed deposit of Rs. 15 crores have been kept separately for labour welfare and an additional Rs. 100 crore in the Labor Department, which Subba pleaded the state government to use on helping migrant workers stranded in Sikkim. Ending his video conference, Subba asserted that testing labs should be established in a war footing and shouldn’t be ignored.

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