Abrupt Lockdown: Can Just Saying ‘Sorry’ Mitigate People’s Sufferings?

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Over crowded bus carrying migrant labourers.

The government’s failure was that it did not bother to make adequate preparations for this lockdown. What was the National Disaster Management Authority doing since the virus breakout in China?

Pervez Bari | Clarion India

PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA Modi has, in his monthly radio address “Mann Ki Baat” the other day said: “I apologise to the nation for taking some hard decisions that have caused inconvenience to the common man. But I had to take these steps to ensure your safety.”

Imposing a lockdown on the nation in an abrupt manner without any preparation to face its after-effects and then just expressing sorrow or apologising to the people does not mean much. For, this will not help mitigate the people’s sufferings. The PM’s sorry is not enough for the poor to fill their stomachs. Better if he stops seeking the sympathy of the people and instead begin taking some strong decisions for the welfare of those who are struggling in the streets or are headed back home on the roads. A few days’ notice before the lockdown would have been of great help, giving the masses the much-required respite to plan out their steps for the long haul.

All said, the lockdown is the right step for public good, to help check the spread of Covid via community transmission.This here is not a question of taking or not taking a hard decision that is a worry for us; it is the issue of casualness in the approach of the government to such a critical issue of lockdown, done without advance notice, that upsets us. A day’s Janata Curfew was declared three days ahead. The 21-day lockdown was declared with just four hours’ notice! The fundamental right to movement of individual from one place was trampled – and there was no declaration of a Medical Emergency as such.

Invoking the penal provisions of the National Disaster Management Act to imprison migrant workers who hurried back to their homes was the height of a government’s insensitivity and rashness. The government stooped so low so as to herd these youths into sheds, ill-equipped quarantine centres across national highways, temporary jails etc. They were only trying to get back home to deal with the sudden tumult in their lives. The government chose to mete out inhuman treatment to the migrant workers who were, one morning, left jobless, hungry, and without shelter.

It would have made sense if proper facilities were provided to this visibly distressed section of the population, More so as the government had ample time to prepare for this step; starting from January 30 when WHO declared Covid-19 as a public health emergency. Serious introspection is called for on how the period was used, or not used, by the administration in ensuring preparedness.

Time to Topple MP Govt

Rather, the government was obsessed with other matters of less consequence. In specific, this was the time when the central leaders got themselves busy with the act of toppling an elected government in Madhya Pradesh, by taking advantage of the schism in the Congress party. This period was also used by the powers-that-be set one against the other; as was witnessed in the Delhi riots in late February. And now, the PM is seeking money from the hapless public to fight the pandemic. Governments cannot afford to be callous. There are those who say the situation here has turned worse than that of Somalia.

The Prime Minister need not apologise for the lockdown decision. It was needed. Instead, he would do well to now concentrate his government’s attention to organizing and distributing food and water, then providing those like the migrant labour free trains or buses to return to their homes. Or, extend a helping hand to them to stay where they are, be it in Delhi or elsewhere, by reaching them food, water, health care etc. This is time for humanitarian action; mere words alone will not help.

It is important that the PM apologise for wasting two months in matters like welcoming foreign dignitaries in Delhi and buying MLAs in Bhopal. The government must feel sorry, yes, for waking up late, making this pandemic an event, locking down the country without any preparations, and not focusing attention on healthcare infrastructure. A government must take decisions and implement them with proper planning and after plugging the loopholes.

End of the day, the poor are suffering. The lockdown planning should have started in the last week of January and enforced by the first week of February. Full February was used to organize a welcome for President Trump. In a way, the government has let down the poor of India. Hope and pray that all Indians come out of this quagmire in once piece as they were in the past.

Apology is not adequate. The PM would, instead, do well to organise live media interviews every week, visit the migrant labourers stranded here and there or are walking 100 plus kilometers without food and water. The PM and his administration should have anticipated such massive return of migrant workers to their homes and ensured proper coordination with the state CMs.

Invoking scriptures to sidetrack the issue is of no help. How come the government, its ministers and bureaucrats, were not able to foresee the sufferings of the masses before waving the demonetisation and lockdown magic wands?

Apart from inflicting hardships, the measures also showed no hint of a success. Looking back, how much of planning went into organizing a Kumbh Mela and how carefully the plan was implemented so that the event went off smoothly? If that’s what was required for a large congregation at one place for a short time, how much of planning should have been there for a countrywide lockdown for such a long period? A health emergency alone cannot not be a justification.

The government’s failure was that it did not bother to make adequate preparations for this lockdown. What was the National Disaster Management Authority doing since the virus breakout in China? Its stated first objective is: “Promoting a culture of prevention and preparedness by ensuring that Disaster Management receives the highest priority at all levels.”

STAGE THREE

One would like to know what is the PM’s road map for the Covid-19 war? Soon, India will hit the Stage 3 in the virus’s course forward. This may result in hundreds of thousands of infections and very many fatalities. What prevents the government from starting vaccine trials, collecting and using blood plasma of the cured so that production and availability of medicines are ensured to one and all, alongside distribution of masks, manufacture of ventilators/test kits etc?

Apologies are an admission of guilt, of failure, of incompetence, of ignorance, of arrogance and of blind pursuit of power.

Is there any scripture which says proper planning is not required to implement such lockdown overnight? PM has an aerial view of the poor and poverty. Grassroots level contacts of this government are happening only with those like the Ambanis, Adanis and chaddiwalas. Even now, the PM can reach across to talents in other parties, rather than relying on his Bhakts who know nothing but are adept at chanting “Modi, Modi”.

The reports are also coming in, of people dying due to hunger in the context of the lockdown. It is time for the government to start cash distribution by way of immediate relief for the poorest of the poor, by opening banks and cash counters at all places where the people are vulnerable to death due to hunger, and where the essential food supplies do not reach.

Removing or replacing the Planning Commission might have inadvertently caused the the nation lose any sense of planning whatsoever! We know the seriousness and urgency of the situation, but this panic reaction is wrong and disturbing. A few days with proper guidelines and means to get food, medicines and medical treatments during the lockdown would have helped calm the situation down and better prepare the people to deal with this pandemic.

DELAYED, UNPLANNED LOCKDOWN

Was the decision on lockdown delayed and unplanned? Where is the home minister? Is it that the only area of his expertise is in creating a divide between Hindus and Muslims? Was the announcement of the lockdown delayed due to an obsession of the ruling party to ensure the oath-taking of its chief minister in Madhya Pradesh on the 23rd March was accomplished? Curiously, the lockdown was announced the next day.

Imagine what if we had confined the NRIs coming into India for the past eight weeks to military facilities so as to isolate, identify, test and treat these people, instead of letting them mix up with the masses here. It is intriguing as to why India did not learn a lesson from South Korea, Iran, Italy, Spain and the US. India had solid 45 days’ time to prepare for something which was brewing in China since December. The cost of isolating NRIs immediately after their landing in airport itself would be no more than a few thousand lakhs. But, the national shutdown would entail the nation many lakhs of corers.

The lockdown is certainly tough. But we have to be tolerant till the end of the Covid-19. season. Prevention is better than cure. And there is the lack of test kits and ventilators. Even empowered countries are unable to control Covid-19 and there is the lack of these equipment. So, we have to opt for preventive techniques, social distancing etc. These are tough times for all. This is time for one and all to obey and cooperate with the government.

The BJP being the wealthiest party today would do well to donate 50 per cent of the party funds to fight the Corona virus. It should lead by example before asking people to contribute. Also, the PM seems to be using this virus opportunity more for promoting himself than working along with all state governments to face the national crisis. We had enough of politics and divisions. Let us unite, but the initiative should come from the PM.

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