J&K needs to brace for another lockdown

J&K needs to brace for another lockdown

Today is the penultimate day of the nationwide 21-day lockdown. Much awaited video conference of the Prime Minister with the CMs of the states/administrators of the UTs is already over with the majority advocating another spell of lockdown. The MHA officials are busy drafting the protocol to be followed during the next phase. Everybody in the country is waiting for the official announcement by the PM but is mentally and physically prepared for the extension of the lockdown period. Despite noises being made by few about the bleak economic condition and advocating greater freedom to certain segments of unorganised labour and manufacturing industry, the vast majority is in favour of continuing with the lockdown fearing that any let down at this stage may prove counter- productive and the nation may have to pay a heavier price ultimately. PM Modi and his team is faced with a real challenge but knowing Modi for taking decisions in national interest always, the extension is certain with only question being of its duration. Modi has assured the nation that his attempt would be to ensure “Jaan bhi Jahaan bhi” implying that while saving lives would be the prime concern of his government, it would also take care of the nation’s economy at the same time.

Coming closer home, ie, Jammu & Kashmir, things are not looking brighter. Though, the administration of the Union Territory has been very pro-active from day one and has been issuing timely orders and advisories, the pandemic is yet to be controlled and instead appears to be spiralling. J&K had announced lockdown much before the national lockdown and sealed its borders well in time with a compulsory quarantine of 14 days of all those entering the state through its only gateway at Lakhanpur. Except for the initial hitches due to the lethargy of the local administration, the things gradually improved and the measure proved to be a great success. Like many other states in India, J&K also has been a victim of the arrogance and irresponsible behaviour of the Tablighis. Majority cases in the state have been due to previous travel history or through contact. Lot of credit needs to be given to JKP and civil administration for a very aggressive cum effective tracking and tracing.  The frontline warriors specially the fighters with stethoscopes need special praise and mention because they along with the paramedical staff worked beyond the call of duty with very limited availability of personal protective equipment.

LG and his advisors along with the Chief Secretary and his team have also spared no effort not only to manage the epidemic but to ensure creation of adequate infrastructure throughout the state to meet the unforeseen situation. It goes to their credit that we have not reached community stage as yet. Not only various task forces were formed in time but additional staff was also deployed in the districts to supplement the resources and oversee the execution of orders. It is creditable that from one testing lab to begin with, the UT today has about seven. Timely assistance provided by the Indian Army, particularly the Northern Command, as usual also needs to be appreciated. About a dozen dedicated Covid hospitals have been established.

It wouldn’t be out of place to analyse the situation in J&K. As on 02 April, J&K had a total 70 corona positive cases; 53 from Kashmir region and 17 from Jammu region with two fatalities and three recovered cases. On 12 April, within a period of 10 days, the total cases rose to 245 with 235 active cases; 191 from Kashmir and 44 from Jammu with total fatalities at four and recovered cases at six. The graph is on the rise since 07 April.  The figures are worrisome. The numbers of hotspots and red zones are increasing by the day. Jammu which had confined the disease to only three districts for quite some times, has five districts as corona affected now. The situation in Kashmir is bad with all nine districts as affected districts with Srinagar, Bandipora and Baramulla reporting large numbers. Situation in North Kashmir is more challenging due to South. Lot of credit goes to DC Baramulla who has been very aggressive in tracking and tracing those who have been hiding. The figure also includes 17 active case patients from other states/ UTs with maximum under treatment in Jammu. Every resident of the state has to don the role of a corona warrior to ensure that we avoid reaching the community stage and are able to break the chain before that.

Let’s examine the causes of large difference in numbers between Jammu & Kashmir regions that would help us in charting the future course. These are:

– Higher rate of testing in Kashmir.

– Large no of Kashmiris were abroad on pilgrimage, work and for studies.

– Greater compliance of advisories in Jammu region.

– Larger cooperation in Jammu in tracking and tracing the Tabliighis.

– Greater public awareness in Jammu.

It is equally important to analyse the reasons which are solely responsible for a higher rate in Kashmir. These are:

– Initial tendency in Kashmir to hide travel history to avoid quarantine and   isolation.

– Use of influential contacts to escape quarantine and not observing the norms of self-isolation while at home.

– Treating disease as a social stigma and thus hiding from medical authorities.

– Spread in almost all districts simultaneously.

– Tablighis were sheltered.

– Rumour mongering and misuse of social media.

– General contempt for government orders and tendency to defy these orders.

– Lower level of literacy in rural Kashmir and influence of mullahs and maulvis.

– Earlier lockdowns in Kashmir were used for social bonding while this one demanded social distancing hence initial difficulty to adjust to new requirements.

The administration has already divided the UT in 34 red zones and it is believed that fresh classification into red, orange and green zones is being done with very strict control measures in red zones. There is no doubt in my mind that J&K will extend the lockdown and the duration may also be longer than the national duration of second lockdown. We need to brace up for the same since life in red and orange zones is going to be much more difficult.

The decision to withhold the traditional Durbar move in its full form is a very matured and welcome decision and will help in preventing further spread of pandemic in Kashmir. The decision needs to be accepted in right spirit rather than politicising it.

Kashmir faces another challenge of Pak sponsored bio-terror. The reports of ISI planning to infiltrate corona positive terrorists across the LoC cannot be ignored. The request of the local military commander to the residents to not to give shelter to the terrorists needs to be taken seriously.

The administration will also have to pull up it socks to cope up with the increased pressure as tendency to slacken would set in. The administration functioned efficiently but coordination was found wanting. Help lines established by districts and administration were rarely of any use because of inter-departmental issues. In such crisis and emergency situations there needs to be seamless integration between various organs and departments of the government to ensure a unified effort. Hopefully lessons learnt and weaknesses observed in the first phase would be analysed and SOPs issued to avoid their repetition.

In order to ensure that in case of increased work load due to rise in numbers, it is proposed to set up two regional advisory cum support groups comprising retired doctors and administrators, army veterans to supplement the existing resources of the government. It should consist only of volunteers and willing to work without any remunerations.

It goes to the credit of the government that supply lines were kept open. But with stocks drying up and almost zero production during the first phase, this is going to be a major challenge during the second phase. The supply department is doing well to ensure the supply of rations to the card holders including passing on the benefits of Pradhan Mantri Kalyan Yojana to the beneficiaries. But feeding of the migrant labour and locals involved in unorganised sectors continues to remain a serious concern. How will they cope up with the next phase of lockdown is an important question. Undoubtedly, the civil society, self-help groups, Seva Bharti and a few NGOs have done wonderful service, the response of the administration remains wanting.

Before it emerges as a major crisis, the administration needs to formulate a centrally controlled system to ensure that none sleeps empty stomach within the boundaries of the Union Territory. In this digital era, it is not at all difficult to ensure this. The local thana (police station) appears to be best suited for ensuring it.

There is no dearth of funds to fight the corona. It is ever collective will power, ability to stay indoors, compliance of government orders and advisories and the dedication of frontline warriors that would help us defeating the deadly coronavirus sooner than later. If we fail to meet our obligations as corona warriors, then well be prepared for even a longer haul of lockdown. Together we can and together we will.


The opinion expressed in the article is entirely personal.


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J&K needs to brace for another lockdown

About the author

Brig Anil Gupta

The author is a Jammu based veteran, political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst.