How does the Kerala CM’s COVID-19 ‘war room’ work?

War room
The decisions arrived at during the discussions at the war room are later announced at the eagerly-awaited daily news conference addressed by the Chief Minister at 6 pm.
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Thiruvananthapuram: The measures taken by the Kerala Government in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic have received all-round appreciation.

One of the major factors contributing to the state government's success is the daily meeting conducted by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan with his officials in the ‘war room’.

The chief minister promptly arrives for the meeting at the war room at 4 pm every day.

In a clear departure from tradition, the Kerala CM has firmly asked officials not to chant the customary ‘Yes Sir’ reponse to his every statement.

The officials are expected to narrate the difficulties they face while tackling the outbreak at different levels. “All issues would be discussed and resolved,” says Pinarayi.

The Chief Minister, who is particular about sticking to his schedule, also wants others to follow his example. He expects the heads of various departments to arrive at the meeting with their homework done. Pinarayi often asks questions to the officials expecting clear answers. He also corrects their mistakes, offers guidance and encourages them. The decisions arrived at during the discussions at the war room are later announced at the eagerly-awaited daily news conference addressed by the Chief Minister at 6 pm.

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Briefing at 9am

The daily official schedule of Pinarayi starts around 8:50 am when the security personnel at the Cantonment Gate of the Secretariat get ready for his arrival. At 9 am sharp, the Chief Minister arrives at the North Block of the Secretariat.

Pinarayi takes the elevator and heads to his room on the third floor where private secretary R Mohan and secretary M Sivasankar IAS brief him on the major developments and meetings of the day. The Chief Minister gives them suitable instructions and checks major files. He then receives visitors and the first person who meets him these days is Health Minister K K Shailaja to brief him on the COVID-19 situation.

Shailaja is usually followed by Chief Secretary, DGP, Finance Secretary and other top officials. On some days, a video conference follows and the Chief Minister meets other visitors till 1 pm. He then leaves the Secretariat and travels to his official residence, Cliff House.

When Pinarayi returns to the Secretariat by 3 pm, press secretary P M Manoj briefs him on the major developments of the day. The private secretary, political secretary Puthalath Dinesan and additional private secretary C M Raveendran inform Pinarayi of the complaints received from the public at his office, action taken and directives from the Centre.

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War room meeting at 4pm

At 4 pm, the Chief Minister reaches the new conference hall on the first floor of the north block of the Secretariat for the crucial war room meeting. Those present at the meeting include Shailaja, Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan, Chief Secretary Tom Jose, Health Secretary Rajan Khobragade, Home Secretary Viswas Mehta, Revenue Secretary Dr V Venu, Local Administration Secretary Jyothilal, DGP Loknath Behera, Fire and Rescue Services chief A Hemachandran and officials from the state disaster management agency.

At the meeting, while the Health Minister reveals facts and figures related to COVID-19 in Kerala, Khobragade makes a powerpoint presentation on the world situation and the steps taken by the state to contain the pandemic. Tom Jose and other officials also speak on the issue. Finally, the Chief Minister offers his suggestions and announces his decisions.

Pinarayi had earlier directed all departments not to take independent decisions but discuss the issues at the war room and arrive at a decision. It is at this meeting that all crucial decisions related to COVID-19 and lockdown are taken. The main points are soon handed over to the press secretary and a detailed press release is prepared after including the notes received from various ministers and departments.

The matter is presented to the Chief Minister for his approval and the final copy is ready within 15 minutes. Before 6 pm, the Chief Minister enters the news conference hall on the ground floor of North Block with the all the latest information regarding the COVID-19 situation in the state.

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