The Kerala government is winning accolades for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, but crucial liaison work in New Delhi may have been hampered by the absence of key officials in the national capital.
The state government had announced the appointment of a new Resident Commissioner at Kerala House in Delhi on February 15. Sanjay Garg took over the post on February 20, and so he is just a month into the new job at a time when the state needs optimum level of coordination with the central government and various central agencies.
It may be noted that the state was allocated a mere Rs 157 crore as State Disaster Risk Management Fund (SDRF) by the centre while other states walked away with a bounty.
The meagre allocation had stirred a row with the state authorities crying foul.
Maharashtra was allotted Rs 1,611 crore being the worst affected state, but what was surprising was that Kerala was allocated a meagre sum considering that the total allocation in this count was Rs 11,092 crore. The allotment was made on April 3.
The state governments are entitled to use the SDRF to mainly provide relief to victims of any notified disaster.
The Union Home Ministry had categorised COVID-19 as a notified disaster on March 15.
Sources also point out that there could have been a lag in presenting Kerala's case in Delhi.
The Laison Officer's post is lying vacant at Kerala House since February 12.
The Kerala Government's special representative in New Delhi, a cabinet rank official appointed by the state government to liaise with the union government and central agencies, is also not in the national capital now.
This lack of coordination also assumes significance as the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which is responsible for giving approvals for private labs to conduct testing of coronavirus cases, is in Delhi and continuous collaboration is needed on these counts.
Coupled with the centre's decision to suspend the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) funds till 2022, this is a huge blow to the efforts of Kerala, which is reeling under a financial crisis, to tackle the situation.
An MP is allocated Rs 5 core per year and the collector, who is the custodian of the fund, allocates it for various development projects in the constituency as directed by the MP.
The Kerala Chief Minister and other officials have never made any adverse comments against the Union ministry vis-a-vis the efforts to check the contagion, but there is a widespread feeling among the LDF sympathisers that the Centre is not allocating adequate funds for the state to deal with the crisis.
The lone BJP representative from Kerala in the Union ministry, V Muraleedharan, has, however, made significant interventions to bring home stranded Keralites abroad in such a crisis scenario.
Kerala also adopted a non-confrontational approach in the border row with BJP-ruled Karnataka, which was settled after the Union ministry mediated between the two states.