By Vijay Darda | 06-04-2020
We used the lockdown weapon against corona in the nick of time but we made a mistake vis-a-vis migrant labourers!
Looking at the miserable condition of other countries in their war against coronavirus, it is reassuring to note that India took right steps in the nick of time and used the weapon of lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus. That is why, compared to the rest of the world, number of corona patients in our country is almost negligible. The US, considered most powerful nation in the world, is at the receiving end and even the European nations have badly failed in their war against coronavirus.
This weekend, one death occurred every minute in the US. In New York city alone, coronavirus killed one person every third minute. Italy and Spain too have been sailing in the same boat. In fact, these countries did not want to hold back their economic system, so they did not opt for lockdown in the initial phase, while India realised the gravity of the situation early on. Human life is more important to us than economy, thanks to our culture.
Like the US or Europe, had Covid-19 spread so fast in a populous and high density country like India, we would not have been able to control it. Therefore, the decision to lockdown the country was absolutely right. We should thank the Central as well as state government for taking this step at the right time. After the lockdown, the Prime Minister has certainly left no stone unturned in coordinating with the states in this war by contacting the chief ministers and the entire administration through the home ministry. The chief ministers of all states have also been involved in this war with full potential. I had written earlier that Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and health minister Rajesh Tope are doing an excellent job.
Since the lockdown was implemented with the noble objective of stemming the spread of coronavirus, every aspect of it should have been taken care of. The government did a lot but a fatal error also occurred. The government should have realised that if the cities were closed, a large number of workers would leave for their villages. There was the real danger of coronavirus reaching the villages as well and taking a heavy toll. Therefore, the government should have announced at the outset that no worker would leave. Full arrangement for their food and shelter should have been made simultaneously. The government has all the figures. It knows very well how many daily wagers and migrant workers are there.
The number of workers in Maharashtra alone is around 40 lakh. According to 2017-18 labour force survey of the government, the total labour force in the country is 46.50 crore. This included 52 per cent self-employed ones, 25 per cent daily wagers, 13 per cent working in the unorganised sector and only 10 per cent with permanent employment. A 2017 survey in Bihar had revealed that there were around 50 lakh people from the state working in the cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Surat, Kolkata and Punjab. Lakhs of people from UP too work in these metropolitan cities. They surely have a lion’s share in the economy of the country.
Therefore, after the initial announcement of lockdown, the workers started returning to their native villages, faced with no arrangement of food and shelter. While some walked 200 kilometres, some others walked even upto 1,000 kilometres to reach their villages in UP, Bihar and Rajasthan. By the time the workers set out on foot, it was too late. Some arrangements were made but were these arrangements adequate? Apart from food and shelter, there are other requirements too. For example, are the health related needs of women workers being taken care of? All these factors should have been considered by the Central and state officials. But the reality is that nobody even thought of the workers while taking the lockdown decision.
The dilemma before the workers was that they would have died sooner from hunger than coronavirus! For how many days can a pani puri seller or a pav bhaji seller sustain himself with his meagre earnings? At least he may hold on for some time but just think about those who wash your used dishes there. Even skilled workers earn some money among the labourers, but there is always a crisis staring the unskilled labourers in the face. Had the authorities addressed their concerns before locking down the country, the workers too would have stayed put where the government would have accommodated them! The Congress has raised the very important issue of migrant workers. But the party structure of Congress is so weak that there is serious doubt that anyone will listen to it.
And yes, a mistake was also made regarding the programme held in Nizamuddin. Just as the Maharashtra government had denied permission for the proposed programme in Vasai, the government should have been strict with Nizamuddin event organisers too and not allowed it to take place. However, let bygones be bygones! Now we all have only one goal, to defeat Covid-19!
It is not only the Central government but the state governments too are doing excellent work in the all-out war against coronavirus. But we must accept that while implementing the lockdown, daily wagers and migrant workers were not taken into consideration. Even today, they are the most distressed lot. Are we even trying to understand their pain?