This compendium has eight long essays on governance challenges that have emerged in India in the wake of three waves of global Covid-19 pandemic. Contributed by governance experts including those with substantial experience in higher civil service and applied academic research, the essays focus on some of the key areas of governance such as public health, capacity for management and analysis of vital statistics, education, social welfare, urban governance, spatial planning, environmental regulation, and technology-enabled governance reforms. The essays survey the key issues in each of these domains, identify the emerging challenges and recommend policy measures to address the situation. Largely descriptive, and unconventional in narration, the essays have organized under two broad categories titled: (i) Health, Education and Environment in the Time of Pandemic: Lessons on Development and Welfare (ii) Pandemic, Cities and Technology: Questions of Priorities and Opportunities. The essays are briefly summarized below:
1. Recording Deaths with or without Covid-19 (Authors: Gopalan Balagopal and Narayanan Unni)
Covid-19 has raised many questions on the ability of India’s existing system to accurately record deaths caused by pandemics. In this context, this essay provides a detailed analysis of the existing mechanism for reporting deaths and births. It shows how the system lacks a consistent mechanism to capture the cause of death at the time of registration. As corrective measures, the authors recommend integration of Civil registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) and a central identity management system, regular audit of birth and death records and a state-wise action plan for addressing the flaws in the current system.
2. The Covid-19 pandemic and the Health Sector: What Have We Learned? (Author: Shreelata Rao Seshadri)
This essay lists a series of lessons related to public health learned during the pandemic and points out that the response to the pandemic in India relied heavily on National Disaster Management Authority’s policies which are not a health-specific policy formulation. The essay recommends a revised set of guidelines along the lines of Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework (PIPF). This framework proposes the setting up of surveillance centers, prediction mechanisms, laboratory networks and deployment of trained personnel. The essay concludes that there must also be efforts to improve the quality of data that is required for evidence-based policy making in the health sector.
3. School Education in the Post-Covid World (Author: C. K. Mathew)
After surveying a series of problems that the education sector in India has faced during the pandemic, this essay says that online education which has gained rapid currency during the crisis period should not be seen an alternative to conventional education and should be used only as a support mechanism. However, noting that technology is going to remain at the core of improving education infrastructure and content, the essay says that there must be special focus on blended learning. Teacher training in the future must be designed keeping in mind these demands. It recommends the constitution of National and State level committees which will have experts from various fields to oversee resuming education and efforts to bridge the learning gaps.
4. Post Covid-19 Economic Challenges and Environmental Regulation (Authors: Kanchi Kohli and Manju Menon)
This essay reviews the policy changes which lowered the environmental standards to incentivize the recovery of the pandemic-hit Indian economy. It argues that to make the environmental response matter to the threat of pandemics, it is necessary to reorient environmental regulations to the objectives of public health and safety rather than to more economic growth. Having experienced the health and economic catastrophe of the pandemic at a global scale, it would be sensible to not overlook the potential of environmental regulation to protect public health, and to prevent making populations already exposed to the covid pandemic more vulnerable due to air pollution and other forms of environmental degradation. The essay concludes that if forest conservation, coastal and marine regulation, infrastructure expansions and land use changes are to be measured against these metrics, we could expect different forms of impact assessments and regulatory decisions.
5. Covid-19 and Vulnerable Groups (Author: Aditi Mehta)
This essay attempts to understand the intersection of caste and poverty keeping the pandemic-induced stigmatization in mind. The analysis is based on the study conducted among the population of De-Notified Tribes (DnT) inhabiting peri-urban areas adjoining Udaipur city and in a mofussil town called Dabok. The essay looks at the material condition prevailing in various DnT communities which made it virtually impossible for them to follow public health advice during the pandemic. Caste and class added to the travails of Dalit and tribal women apart from the issues that they face along gender lines. Access to food and nutrition, access to essential commodities, access to basic healthcare also suffered during the pandemic. The increase in cases of child abuse and domestic violence were alarming throughout the pandemic. The essay lists out a set of measures focusing on what local self-governments can do in terms of providing basic citizens’ rights to the DnTs and other marginalized communities. Need for the government to focus on protecting livelihoods of the marginalized communities is stressed in the policy suggestions. Addressing gender gap issues, providing sexual and other healthcare services during crisis are suggested
6. Urban Development and Pandemic: A Time to Reset the Priorities (Author: Joy Oommen)
Administrators want their cities to be more resilient in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. Such urban resilience can be achieved, this essay argues, only by making the poor and vulnerable sections of the population more resilient to unanticipated shocks. This in turn would entail a series me of measures. Providing a cleaner and more hygienic environment, adequate and safe housing, access to reliable and affordable healthcare for them should form the core of this effort. This will call for an all-out effort to regularize and upgrade slums and other illegal colonies where the economically or socially weaker sections live, or to provide them with alternative accommodation. Increasing the stock of affordable rental housing is another priority. Availability of land is often mentioned as a constraint, but we see that many Government departments and PSUs are making plans to monetize the ‘excess lands’ in their possession. This should stop and all excess lands should be handed over to Local Governments with a mandate to use them primarily for developing civic amenities and housing for the weaker sections. A reliable and efficient public transport system with coordination among all players — public and private- would help the cause of a cleaner environment while saving money and time for the commuters. Informal sector remains hit even now and special efforts would be needed to help those in the informal sector to get their jobs and livelihoods back. Targeted skill development and retraining, setting up of orderly and well-maintained markets, facilitating bank loans and ensuring support of civil society organizations are needed to achieve this.
7. Covid-19 and Compact Cities: Mis-aligned Institutional Goals, Policy Opportunism and Planning for Bengaluru (Author: Champaka Rajagopal)
At the root of the long-standing pre-occupation for decongestion in urban India is the historic bubonic plague, that inflicted most Indian cities in the early 20th century. More than a 100-years hence, the Covid-19 pandemic has only reinforced the fear of congestion in Indian cities. The City of Bengaluru poses an apt example. Spatial master plans for Bengaluru have over the last four decades inconsistently oscillated between decongestion and compact cities as an overarching paradigm to shape the city’s future growth trajectories. The essay discusses why sprawl-oriented development dissuades preparedness for uncertainties and concludes by underscoring the need for empowering local governments to orchestrate diverse institutions with divergent values, to frame shared goals and outcomes for Bengaluru which keep the city better prepared for future shocks.
8. Opportunities and Challenges to E‑Governance During Covid-19 and After (Author: Krishna Mohan)
Covid-19 pandemic pushed the limits of India’s e‑governance infrastructure, mobile networks, and smart devices. Technology adoption has increased to a new height not only by the Centre but also by State and Local Governments, and citizens. Post-Covid, it has been a slow movement towards a contactless world. Thus, the essay argues, it is important for the Government to proactively plan for the new reality and emerge stronger from the crises by further accelerating the digital transformation of public service delivery and engagement through e – Governance. If leveraged correctly, this situation can help India attain new heights in terms of e- Governance adoption and utilization.