New Delhi,: Swaraj India expresses deep concern about the manner in which the Government has extended the nation-wide lockdown for another 20 days. If this extension of the lockdown is not accompanied by expansion and universal coverage of social security, this could turn into a national catastrophe for the most and especially the poorest and the marginalised people in the country.
The PM’s announcement makes it clear that the Government of India has adopted more severe measures to contain Coronavirus infection than any other country at this stage of spread. The evidence so far suggests that the nation-wide lockdown for three weeks may have helped the country to check the spread of the pandemic although it is too early to predict, especially in the backdrop of the low rate of testing in India. Swaraj India had supported the PM’s initial declaration and had called upon the people to extend every possible cooperation to make this into a success but from the experience suffered by the people in the past 21 days, it is apparent that the Central and State governments had no disaster management plan or checklist in place. This is extremely surprising as under the National Disaster Management Act, every district of the country has a disaster management plan which includes control of epidemics. Administrations have at best bumbled along, reacting rather than acting to mitigate distress and human suffering.
The first phase of lockdown has shown that the people have endured all kinds of hardship for this national resolve, even as much of the burden has been borne by the poorest and the most marginal sections of our society. It was imperative that any extension of the lockdown be done after very careful deliberation, that its reasons be fully explained to the country and such a decision be accompanied by an expansion of social security net to save the last person. Sadly, the PM’s address to the nation falls woefully short of this minimum expectation. The PM did not share full information about the scientific evidence on projected spread of the virus that guided this decision. More importantly, he did not announce any measure to ameliorate the tragedy being inflicted on the migrant labourers who are stranded without job, income, food or a home. Nor did the PM address some of the most pressing concerns of the farmers, non-migrant labour, small business and middle classes. A flat extension of the draconian lockdown without addressing any of these concerns would not only inflict untold misery on a vast majority of Indians but would also put to risk the very fight against coronavirus.
The guidelines issued today by the Ministry of Home Affairs leaves much to be desired. It appears to be rush job and not a careful blueprint of dealing with the current phase of the lockdown, based on the experiences and knowledge gained from the first phase of the lockdown. For example, all local public transport continues to be banned yet grand plans have been unveiled about workforce joining their work in selected essential sectors. This gives rise to a simple question – how will workers reach their place of work? The guidelines also severely infringe the federal structure of the nation with stern warnings being issued to the states that the guidelines have to followed without exception. This gives rise to the authoritarian illusion that the Central government will run or direct the running of the whole nation – something that neither the Constitution for ground realities permit.
Swaraj India hopes that the government would immediately announce and more importantly, ensure implementation of the following measures:
1. Universal ration to everyone, including those who do not possess ration cards
2. Regular cooked meals for the most vulnerable in every government school using the Mid-Day-Meal infrastructure
3. Special point-to-point trains to the migrant workers who are stranded away from home; till then full arrangement of food and cash allowance for them to survive this period.
4. Compensatory wages to all the MNREGA workers holding an active job card
5. Mechanism to ensure that farmers get MSP for their entire food grain produce and compensation for perishable produce that could not be marketed due to the lockdown
6. All loans (KCC of farmers and EMIs of consumers) to be freed from interest for the three months of moratorium on loan repayment.
7. Ensure that all employers are given resources and access to public funds (for example GST reversal) so that they can pay salaries to their employees.
Swaraj India is on ground, working and watching the day-to-day developments in the country. It will continue to play a constructive role in highlighting and flagging issues that require urgent attention of the government and will suggest ways and means of ensuring that all essentials for life are reached to every Indian without fail.