Sunday 31 May 2020 ,
Breaking News
Coronavirus: Highest 40 deaths in Bangladesh in a single day, 2545 new cases Coronavirus: Highest 40 deaths in Bangladesh in a single day, 2545 new cases
13 May, 2020 11:30:00 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 14 May, 2020 06:36:20 PM

Print

DATELINE INDIA : A catch-22 situation

What is all the more surprising is that the Railways rushed to open up even before the deadline of May 17 national lockdown expired
Kumkum Chadha
DATELINE INDIA : A catch-22 situation

In a single stroke the Narendra Modi led government has undone what it aspired to achieve during the 50 plus days nationwide lockdown it had imposed in March following the coronavirus reaching India and threatening to assume alarming proportions.
At that point in time the step was hailed as a bold and tough one with Prime Minister Narendra Modi being praised universally for going ahead and doing what other countries should have but did not dare to.
Of course there were critics and naysayers but in the ultimate analysis everyone agreed that the lockdown was a step which was absolutely necessary and unavoidable. There were, they agreed, hardships but despite that they backed Modi’s slogan of Jaan hai tojahan hai: the focus on lives over livelihood.
Even as the third lockdown extension nears an end there is demand from state Chief Ministers to extend it further to control the spread of the pandemic.

Prime Minister Modi did, in his latest address to the nation on Tuesday, hint at lockdown 4.0 but with a different face: "The fourth phase of the lockdown will be completely new in form and rules," PM Modi said even as he indicated that the Centre will incorporate suggestions given by chief ministers during Monday's videoconference to formulate the rules. 

However, some states like Telangana have already announced an extension of lockdown in the state beyond May 17. The state government has announced its decision to extend the lockdown in the state till May 29. 

Chief ministers of several other states, including Bihar, Delhi, Punjab and Maharashtra have pitched for extending the lockdown given that the number of COVID-19 cases are increasing by the day. 

West Bengal Chief Minister CM Mamata Banerjee who is at loggerheads with the Centre also sought a lockdown extension even as she lashed out at the Centre for “picking on” the TMC administration over data discrepancy. 

More importantly Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Telangana urged the Centre not to resume train or plane services to the state on grounds that resumption of these services would lead to new infections. 

But the Centre has gone ahead and done exactly the opposite. It has announced the resumption of train services while indicating that domestic air travel would start soon. 

The Indian Railways resumed passenger train operations early this week: nearly two months after services were suspended due to the nationwide lockdown. Even while starting these routes, the Indian Railways has announced more special services on new routes. 

The Railways has made Aarogya Setu mobile application, which helps in tracking the spread of the virus, mandatory for passengers who want to board the trains.

Once bookings opened on Monday, with 15 trains a day connecting big cities there was a scramble. 

The Railways ministry said that reservations were issued to more than 54,000 passengers; all first AC, three-tier AC tickets for the Howrah-New Delhi train, for instance,  were sold within the first 10 minutes and all seats were reserved in 20 minutes.The crash of the online ticketing website — IRCTC — reveals the size of pent-up demand for travel.

The irony is that resumption of train services was announced when India’s coronavirus infections touched 67,152 cases. With the opening of the train services, the danger of the virus spreads looms large. 

At a meeting with the chief ministers on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that resumption of train services is needed to rev up the economic activity. What is expected to follow is the move to allow domestic flights even as government sources confirm their “readiness” to  start operations. That 

India has been amongst the best performing countries in the world in combating covid-19, keeping both the number of affected and the dead low. Therefore to rush into operations of services would be a folly which could cause the country dearly and immediately cancel whatever gains it has accrued in the strictest lockdown ever. 

Between flights and trains, resumption of domestic flights is not as fraught with risks as trains because passenger trains would ferry hundreds  and thousands of migrant labour back from towns to the rural areas thus  increasing the risks of spreading the virus. 

However much the government may claim about the checks and balances it has in place, the fact remains that it is a near impossible task to check everyone who boards the trains and that they will in huge numbers. What is all the more surprising is that the Railways rushed to open up even before the deadline of May 17 national lockdown expired. 

The Railways, as also the Modi government, it seems was in a catch-22 situation: a damned if you do and a damned if you don’t kind of a thing. 

Keeping health above all concerns meant that everyone stays where they are: the initial focus of the lockdown which was clearly spelt out by Prime Minister Modi: Jo jahan hai wahin rahe or stay put kind of a thing. But it was easier said than done and as days passed into weeks the migrant labour was faced with real issues of hunger and loss of jobs. That brought them virtually on the streets with several defying the lockdown and coming out in large numbers to literally walk home several hundred kilometres.  

This posed a challenge with many dying and others saying that it is hunger and not the virus which will kill them. As against this was the desperation to get back home. The Opposition of course played its role by calling the Government insensitive and heartless and attempting to erase whatever good work the Centre with help from the states had done in checking the wide-spread of the deadly virus. 

The problem was compounded when some workers were run over by a train when they were sleeping on the tracks. Ofcourse the opposition cried foul and flagged the apathy of the government irrespective of the stupidity of the act of sleeping on railway tracks. 

There were others who felt that instead of an abrupt lockdown announcement the government should have sent the migrant labour back home: a senseless argument because had the government herded and huddled thousands of workers on trains the virus would have spread like wild fire and also reached rural India which so far remains somewhat unaffected than the cities. Opening up passenger trains and letting people go back to the villages will do exactly that and risk a spread in rural India where the norms of social distancing are violated more than they are followed. 

Also it would defeat the entire purpose of economic activity acceleration because the labour when needed at workplaces would be travelling back home. And once gone are likely to stay home for some months.  

Testing everyone boarding trains is a far cry because of the shortage of kits and manpower to undertake such a mammoth exercise. Add to that the fact that there are asymptomatic cases carrying the virus. There is little evidence that the Aarogya Setu app will actually work to detect Covid-19 patients. Worse still, whatever precautions the Railways may claim or even attempt to follow, things on the ground will go for a toss. As for facilities at destinations there are no adequate for quarantining passengers.

Therefore even while the Government has succumbed to pressure from helpless migrants and the working class people, it is akin to reversing the clock and putting us back to where we had started off in March thus defeating the entire purpose of the tough exercise of the nationwide lockdown. Given that the Government had taken hard decisions in the past, it could well have continued the tough line because once business activity commences in coming weeks, many would be able to get back to work. Sending them back home when economic activity is set to resume is like putting the cart before the horse kind of a situation.

The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist and a columnist of The Independent.

SH

 

Comments

Poll
Today's Question »
State minister for power Nasrul Hamid yesterday said everyone to have access to electricity by June. Do you think the feat achievable by the timeframe?
 Yes
 No
 No Comment
Yes 47.3%
No 48.7%
No Comment 4.1%
Video
More Opinion Stories
Protect purity of every type of media What is wrong if a television channel broadcasts a music show performed by none other than the owner of the channel itself and, moreover, who is not an accomplished singer himself or herself? What is the harm if a television channel…

Copyright © All right reserved.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Disclaimer & Privacy Policy
....................................................
About Us
....................................................
Contact Us
....................................................
Advertisement
....................................................
Subscription

Powered by : Frog Hosting