The government constituted 11 empowered groups to suggest measures to ramp up healthcare, put the economy back on track and reduce misery of people as quickly as possible post the 21-day lockdown imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
These empowered groups have been constituted to ensure a comprehensive and integrated response to COVID-19 and will work under the overall guidance of P K Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, sources said.
In a late evening notification, the Union Home Ministry said the pandemic of COVID-19 has engulfed the entire world, posing serious challenges for health and economic security of millions of people worldwide.
Observing that the measures taken so far have been effective in containing the pandemic, it said, during this unprecedented situation, to effectively address issues, constraints and scenarios, a well-planned and coordinated emergency response has become essential.
"Considering the gravity and magnitude of the challenges, which are emerging with every passing day, there is a pressing need to augment and synchronise efforts cutting across various ministries.
"Keeping in view the need for such comprehensive action and integrated response... the undersigned in the capacity as Chairperson, National Executive Committee, hereby constitute eleven Empowered Group of Officers (under the Disaster Management Act, 2005)," it said.
These groups are empowered to identify problem areas and provide effective solutions, delineate policy, formulate plans, strategise operations and take all necessary steps for effective and time-bound implementation of plans, strategies or decisions in their respective areas, a notification issued by Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla stated.
The Department of Expenditure has issued special instructions to enable expeditious decision making in procurement matters, the notification said.
"During the deliberations, if any of the Empowered Groups is of the view that a particular aspect is not within the domain of that Group and falls within the scope of any other Group(s), they may seek the guidance of the Cabinet Secretary," it added.
Out of these 11 empowered groups, nine are headed by secretary-level officers, one by a NITI Aayog member and one by the NITI Aayog CEO.
As per the notification, Empowered Group on medical equipment and management plan will be headed by NITI Aayog member V K Paul, Empowered Group on availability of hospitals by Environment Secretary C K Mishra, Empowered Group on essential drugs, medical equipment by Pharma Secretary P D Vaghela, Empowered Group on augmenting human resources by MSME Secretary Arun Panda and Empowered Group on facilitating supply chain and logistics management by Secretary Drinking Water and Sanitation P Iyer.
Besides, NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant will head the Empowered Group on coordinating with private sector NGOs and international organisations, Economic Affairs Secretary Atanu Chakraborty and Amit Khare Secretary HRD will head the Empowered Group on public grievances and suggestions.
Information and Broadcasting Secretary Ravi Mittal has been tasked with heading the group on public awareness, Empowered Group on technology will be headed by Secretary MEITY Ajay Sawhney and that on strategic issues relating to lockdown will be presided over by Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla.
The initiative is being viewed as a pro-active step by the government to deal with multiple challenges posed by the outbreak of the COVID-19 outbreak, the sources said.
These groups will also work on strategy for restoring normalcy in their respective sectors, including healthcare, in the shortest possible time frame, they added.
The group on Economy and Welfare, which will be headed by Economic Affairs Secretary Atanu Chakraborty, has been tasked with addressing the concerns of various sectors, including both formal and informal segments of the economy - hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdown.
It is expected to suggest various relief measures to put the economy back on track as soon as possible, the sources said.
Special emphasis will have to be laid on welfare schemes for the poor, who have suffered a lot on account of the lockdown, they said.
The poor and vulnerable sections of the society are the key focus of the government and dealing with challenges faced by them will be given top priority, they added.
According to the sources, the groups have been empowered to formulate plans and to take all necessary steps for their time-bound implementation.
Each group will have about six members with one officer from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and the Cabinet Secretariat, so that there is a seamless coordination and suggestions accepted are implemented without any delay.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on March 24 announced a complete lockdown across the country for 21 days, asserting that social distancing is the only way out for the country in its decisive battle against coronavirus.
The lockdown led to an exodus of migrant labourers from cities to their native places as they were left to fend for themselves.
Modi on Sunday sought the nation's forgiveness for imposing a monumental lockdown in the country, saying it was a question of life and death.
He expressed confidence that "we will definitely win the battle" against coronavirus.
The total number of coronavirus cases in India rose to 1,024 on Sunday, including 27 deaths, according to the Union Health Ministry.