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Battling COVID-19 With Dysfunctional Federalism: Lessons from India

Authors: Abishek Choutagunta, G.P. Manish and Shruti Rajagopalan

Affiliation: University of Hamburg (Germany), Troy University (USA) and George Mason University (USA)
Organization/Publisher: Southern Economic Journal/ Wiley

Date/Place: March 25, 2021/USA

Type of Literature: Symposium Article

Number of Pages: 33


Keywords: India, COVID-19, Dysfunctional Federalism, Centralized Lockdown, Economy


The authors in this article argue that India’s dysfunctional federalism is the reason for its centralized lockdown. The centripetal federalism, which gives enormous powers to the Union government, has prevented state and local governments in generating enough resources and capacity for battling COVID-19 locally. The imposition of a one-size-fits-all policy of a country-wide lockdown in India did not really work in favor of people, because of not having access to even basic health care. It also resulted in having a huge impact on its economy. The burden of this lockdown was mostly on the poor, particularly the low-income urban migrants and those working in the informal sector. The article details the variation between states along four margins: state resources, state healthcare, testing capacity and COVID-19 rates before the lockdown. This approach makes it clear that the centralized lockdown was neither necessary nor appropriate for India, which is so diverse. India is a union of 28 states, with different population sizes. The State of Uttar Pradesh is the size of Brazil, and Sikkim is the size of Bhutan. Goa, India’s richest state, has a GDP compared to Jordan, while Bihar has a poor GDP like Haiti. With such variation across its states, it really did not make sense to put a uniform lockdown through the whole of India, as it surely had an impact on states in different proportions. The authors argue that India’s response to COVID-19 has a lot to do with its ingenuine federalism.

By: Ruby Clayton, CIGA Research Associate



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