A day after the Centre lashed out at states for not utilising the allocated COVID-19 funds, media reports suggested that the central government has not disbursed enough funds to combat the pandemic. A media report mentioned that the Centre has distributed only 26.14 percent of the India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Package – Phase-II (ECRP) funds to the states. The report further claimed that the central government has distributed funds upto November 2021, and that the states have utilised 60 percent of the same.
The union health ministry refuted the reports, stating them as “misleading and misinformed”, and claimed that it has disbursed 50 percent of funds allocated for states and union territories (UTs). Mentioning one of the media reports, the health ministry said in a statement, “The news channel further claims that funds were disbursed by the Centre by November 2021 and states have utilized 60 per cent of the approved funds. The news report is misinformed and claims are false, misleading and based on misrepresented facts.”
In July last year, the central government approved the “India Covid-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Package – Phase-II” (ECRP-Phase-II), through which an amount of Rs 23,123 crores was approved. Of this the Centre’s share was set to be Rs 15,000 crores and the states’ share would be Rs 8,123 crores. The funds were to be utilised between July 1, 2021 and March 31, 2021. As a part of the scheme – which is centrally sponsored with some central sector (CS) components – the states are supposed to spend Rs 20,208.70 crores, of which the Centre’s contribution will be Rs 12,185,70 crores and the states would donate Rs 8,123 crores.
The central government, in its statement, has claimed that the health ministry had released 15 percent of the allocated funds immediately after the approval of the scheme in July, to help the states and UTs implement ECRP-II quickly. “The second instalment of funds was released soon after as advance to the States in the month of August 2021. A total amount of Rs 6075.85 crore (50 percent of central share) has already been released to States/UTs through National Health Mission (NHM) by 24th August 2021,” read the statement, adding that the remaining 50 percent of the funds will be released based on the progress and utilisation of the already disbursed funds by the states. “Out of the Rs 6075.85 crore made available by the Union Government, Rs. 1679.05, crore, (i.e. 27.13%), have been spent by states as 31/12/21, and not 60% as claimed in the news report,” it added.
Earlier on Sunday, the central government had lashed out at states for not utilising the COVID-19 funds disbursed to ramp up health infrastructure. During a review meeting of state health ministers and senior officials of the state health departments, amidst the surge in cases, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya noted that the states have collectively utilised just 17 percent of the total Rs 23,123 crores under the ECRP-II.
Reportedly seven states — Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh – were supposed to set up ICU facilities with more than 1,000 beds. However, not much has been done despite the spike in COVID cases in the states, especially in Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
The health minister exhorted the states and UTs to improve health infrastructure under ECRP-II in terms of ICU beds, oxygen tanks, pediatric ICUs and HDU beds, and so on. He advised states to make best use of information technology to expedite training and capacity building of human resources, timely availability of ambulances, readiness to operationalise COVID facilities for institutional quarantining, and effective monitoring of those in home isolation, thereby, utilising the funds in a more effective manner. States like Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Manipur, where elections are about to be conducted, were also advised to escalate the vaccination drive.
Mandaviya further stated that the states and UTs should insist their teams to work at the ground level and strengthen monitoring and containment mechanisms. He stressed on key aspects like COVID management, including improving hospital infrastructure, increasing testing of COVID-suspected patients, stringent restrictive measures for violating the measures to contain the spread of the virus, and stress on COVID-appropriate behavior.
Most states’ combat strategies have been emergency-driven and focused on imposing restrictions on the movement of people, which has been largely ineffective in curbing the spread of the virus. With the threat of the high transmissibility rate of the new Omicron variant, it is concerning that lesser measures are being taken to utilise the medical knowledge gained in the last couple of years, and more focus has been put on blunt measures. It was noted during the health ministry’s review meeting that there should be more focus on putting allocated funds to proper use in the rural areas like adding beds in primary, secondary, and community healthcare centres in states like UP, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, and Jharkhand.