On Monday, the Kerala state government declared coronavirus as a state disaster or state calamity. This is perhaps the first time in the country that a disease outbreak was declared as a state calamity.
A state Executive Committee chaired by Chief Secretary Tom Jose, with Secretaries of Home, Finance, Health and Disaster Management Authority as members, took the decision in this regard.
According to Sekhar Kuriakose, member Secretary of the state Disaster Management Authority, the decision to declare a state calamity was taken after assessing the situation. He added that it all depends on how unique a situation is as well as its potential future.
“There is no pre-set criteria for declaring a state calamity. In the case of coronavirus, the fact that three people have contracted the virus and the potential for the virus to spread was considered. We also took into consideration that others may test positive," he told TNM.
The biggest 'advantage' of declaring a calamity is that it empowers district collectors to respond to the situation under the ambit of disaster management.
“The Collectors will have more power and they will be able to address the situation differently. The flow of money will from State Disaster Response Fund will be smoother as well,” Sekhar Kuriakose said.
Apart from the ravaging floods of 2018 and 2019, the state had earlier declared Puttingal Devi Temple fireworks tragedy in Paravur in Kollam district as a state calamity. The fire tragedy had claimed 110 lives.
Though, a much bigger outbreak, the spread of nipah virus in 2018 claimed 17 lives, it was not declared a calamity.
“In the case of nipah in 2018, it was reported from one district only. In the case of coronavirus, it has now been reported from three districts and there are many suspected cases and hence we have to address it with more seriousness,” Sekhar Kuriakose added.
Was this necessary?
However, former head of the State Disaster Management Authority Dr KG Thara says that she cannot understand why the state made such a decision.
“If something has to be declared as a calamity, a huge number of people should be affected. There should be huge loss of lives, property, or losses to environment caused by something like an earthquake or tsunami. By declaring coronavirus a state calamity, it gives quite a wrong message. This would adversely affect the state's tourism and allied activities. As of now, in the case of coronavirus, there was no prevailing situation to declare it a state calamity,” she told TNM.
She also disagreed with Sekhar Kuriakose's statement comparing coronavirus with nipah. Dr Thara says that even though nipah was reported from one district at a time, the contact lists of people were from various places.
“Scores of people in the state had died due to dengue fever and still we didn’t declare it as a calamity. Also if we say it’s a potential threat, any virus poses a potential threat. As per the definition in disaster management, any event that threatens to damage the environment, lives, and property is a potential hazard. Anything that threatens to become a disaster is called a hazard and not a disaster,” she said.