The Union government released ₹4,113.21 crore to States and Union Territories in March and April 2020 for management of COVID-19 in the country, revealed a response to a Right to Information (RTI) query. The funds were to be released to all States and UTs under the National Health Mission.
The RTI response under “Central Release of grants in India under National Health Mission for management for COVID-19” showed a significant increase from March 2020 to April 2020. The amount released in the month of March was ₹1,113. 21 crore, which increased by nearly three times to ₹3,000 crore in April 2020.
Biswanath Goswami, a socio-legal researcher and activist, who obtained this information, said he had filed the queries in March, and they were transferred over 40 times between 10 Ministries and Departments.
The reply revealed that the Centre had classified the States under various categories like ‘High Focus States’, ‘Hilly States’, ‘North Eastern High Focus States’, ‘Union Territories with Legislatures’, ‘Union Territories without Legislatures’ and ‘Other States’.
For instance, the States grouped under the category of ‘High Focus States’ — Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — were allocated ₹428. 94 crore in March and ₹752.39 crore in April 2020.
For the category ‘Other States’, which include Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka , Kerala, Maharashtra, Haryana, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, ₹946.21 crore was allocated in March and ₹2,503.24 crore in April. The amount allocated to ‘North Eastern High Focus States’ was ₹111.34 crore in March and ₹124.25 crore in April.
Mr. Goswami said the response raised more questions than answers as to the basis for allocation of the funds, and why amounts allocated to States with the same population and vulnerability to the pandemic were at variance.
“Maharashtra was allocated ₹468 crore in March and April 2020, while the amount for West Bengal for these months was only ₹125.67 crore. Uttar Pradesh, the State with the highest population in the country, was allocated about ₹368 crore in the same period,” he said.
Mr. Goswami said Bihar, which is again in the ‘High Focus State’ category, was allocated about ₹149 crore whereas allocation to Rajasthan was ₹287 crore.
In southern India, Kerala was allocated ₹293 crore and Tamil Nadu was allocated ₹360 crore.
“It is important for the Union government to inform the people on what basis these allocations were made, and the States should tell people how the money was spent. There is a need for more transparency and accountability when it comes to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.