For how long should the Lockdown continue?
M K Tayal: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the chief ministers discussed the strategy ahead for the lockdown ending 3 May hinting that lifting the lockdown would be in a ‘graded’ way. While many chief ministers are reportedly in favour of continuing the lockdown, there is a strong sentiment for lifting the lockdown while the economy, industry and the people suffer in silence.
The simple logic of continuing the lockdown given by the chief ministers at the video conference was that all the gains achieved during the 40 day lockdown would be nullified if the lockdown is lifted. And when you imposed the lockdown at 500 cases, what is the point of lifting the lockdown at 40,000 cases and nearly 1,000 deaths (27,000-mark, 872 deaths as on April 27). Observers state that the lockdown has slowed the growth rate of the pandemic by April 6, to a rate of doubling every six days, and, by April 18, to a rate of doubling every eight days.
Nearly 82 countries around the world are under various conditions of lockdown or stay at home conditions. There is an ongoing debate around the world, with no definite answer. But it is high time to ask tough question and take tougher decisions.
In India it was decided by the Prime Minister to implement the lockdown but many aspects were not considered or overlooked as the prime motive was to save lives. But now experts are questioning how it is impacting the lives of the not only poor and marginalized people but middle class working professionals and even shopkeepers and small businessmen too.
“Lockdown in countries like India and Indonesia are more disastrous for human welfare and economies since there is no help for small businesses nor are there unemployment benefits,” said Christopher Wood, Global Head of Equity Strategy at Jefferies.
Support to the people
Canada has given $1,200 to each of the foreign students in that country. The Canadian government has given $1 lakh to big businesses $40,000 to small business to tide over the crisis created by the pandemic.
The US where the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Programme will provide up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees for eight weeks during the health crisis.
On 26 March, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a Rs 170,000 crore stimulus package to help those affected by the lockdown. It has given Rs 500 to workers registered under the MGNREGA scheme through bank transfers and remaining packages would be subsequently revealed. It has imposed several clauses on business who would get the deemed benefit.
And on March 29, the government ordered the landlords should not demand rent during the period of the lockdown and that employers should pay wages without deduction. Companies are not expected to lay off people and pay their employee salaries, while the government has held back dearness allowance to its employees till July 2021.
Less of everything, more of nothing
An estimated 139 million migrant workers from the countryside work in India’s cities and towns. They lost jobs and lakhs walked back home on foot, some not even making it. Nearly 41 lakh labours are in shelter homes and 99 lakhs are being fed by non-government organizations, according to the reports. Approximately, 150 million jobs will be affected by the lockdown.
The government has suspended all transport services in the country except essential goods and emergency services. All industries, educational institutions, hotels and restaurants, malls, shops etc have been closed with the exception of ATMs, petrol pumps, other essentials and manufacturing services were exempted. However, there have been cases of government closing pharmaceutical companies for violating social distancing norms and have faced closers and sealing.
Medical services though have been exempted but on ground the situation is critical. OPDs have been closed. Government hospitals are treating only emergency patients and private hospitals have been under pressure from the government
agencies and have been functioning with limited capacities. However, many private hospitals and nursing homes shut complete operations. Many people are reported to have died due to non-availability to medical assistance due to the strict guidelines in place, as The Correspondent reported on April 26.
Fear of law
The lockdown has restricted people from stepping out of their homes. And according to the Home Ministry, anyone who fails to follow the restrictions could face upto one year in prison. The police have slapped cases against people for venturing outside their home or against even delivery persons for delivering food in certain cases without passes.
State of affairs
While nearly all states wanted the lockdown to continue when it was about to end on 14 April, now economic problems cannot be shoved under the carpet and politicians are not sure how to deal with the state of affairs even as state chief ministers weigh the political fallout of suppressing the people for too long.
As the date to end the lockdown nears, the expectation that the chain of infection would break due to the lockdown has not been met.
The Congress party has asked Modi to explain his lockdown strategy. The government has not come out with any effective plan and still grappling over how to extricate from the situation. “The Lockdown cant continue for long. We hope the prime minister will unveil some national plan,” said Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari.
Strategy less too
It means that after more than a month of imposing the lockdown, the government has no plan or strategy in place to deal with the situation.
The home ministry guidelines issued on April 20 and the roadmap ahead of May 3 based on the compliance record of citizens. It ordered neighborhood shops to open. But there is no word on opening public transport, or how to revive the economy or how to help get jobs.
The chief ministers, sharing with the prime minister the efforts they made in their respective states, suggested ways to meet the challenges even as the political heads of many states indicated they want the lockdown to continue for another two weeks.
What states want to do
Telangana has announced an extended lockdown till 7 May. The chief ministers of BJP-ruled states have left the decision to the prime minister. Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has indicated that as long as there is some infection in any district, it will be challenging to open the lockdown.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said that the lockdown should not be lifted. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal does not want to start business activities in the capital before May 3. “It will be a decision of the central government; the Delhi government will decide the direction,” Kejriwal said.
Haryana’s Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala had said conditions could worsen if the lockdown is lifted fully. The nationwide lockdown must be withdrawn slowly and in a phased manner, he said.
Prime Minister Modi will make the final decision like last time, depending on the situation of the country around May 2, said a source in the PMO. This is indeed glaring – it is not a fictional situation and keeping people in dark smacks of lack of strategic planning and absolute no vision. The World Health Organisation says that engaging and mobilizing communities to limit exposure is imperative to lift lockdown.
The Prime Minister must remember that approximately 150 million jobs are going to be affected besides approximately 140 million daily wage earners are also in dire need to live. Besides, the government is also losing on GST, excise and other taxes. The financials conditions of not only private companies but of the governments is also going to get hit. It is expected that the GPD could be hit a low of 1.5 to 2 percent. There is also a threat of communal defiance of lockdown. Besides, it is also hurting the religious sentiments of crores of not only muslims but hindus too who are not allowed to visit their places of worship.
We in India must end this lockdown and adopt effective measures to counter the threat of the corona virus.