Lockdown & Migrant Workers: Centre, states wake up late
Too little and maybe too late! An assessment of the Centre’s lockdown and Rs 1,70,000-crore relief package for the urban and rural poor announced on Thursday last, may not be off the mark. For thousands of stranded migrant and daily wages workers walking miles and miles back to villages from big cities is a stark reality that has finally hit the Centre after announcing closing of borders, stopping railways, buses and asking people to stay home! States too have woken up to this dark side and are now scrambling to get their act together with money and food packets to give them assurance. The Centre unfortunately has passed on the buck to States saying labour is a concurrent issue while transport is a State subject, and ‘so we need to look for a solution’. The big question is, why wasn’t a plan put in place before announcing the lockdown; or when flights were being arranged to transport stranded foreigners back home, why not railways and buses for the poor; or when a week ago the Centre notified Rs 20,000 crore a week before for completion of land use of are in Lutyen’s Delhi, or when Parliament was kept in session for over a week after the pandemic alarm was sounded? Pertinent questions alright. With media highlighting horrific tales of the misery of thousands of such workers, the authorities are reaching out to the civil society as well, which perhaps has been the first to respond with empathy. How soon New Delhi and States will provide safe transport to these daily wage labourers or set up government shelters to ensure they get food and shelter, is the critical question. Centre’s declaration, “We don’t want anyone to remain hungry, or without money. So we will be giving enough,” doesn’t sound convincing enough.
The farming community should be a cause of worry for State governments as well. Unseasonal rain, unavailability of labourers to cut the harvest, lack of storage space, shops selling fertilizers and pesticides closed are concerns being voiced in Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab among other States. Lack of labourers and fear of virus spreading, has the Rajasthan government advising farmers to use machines for harvesting and threshing instead, but with the shops downing shutters where does one get these as these are not part of essential goods. In Haryana the government has announced delay in procurement of wheat and mustard, which is harvested and farmers have a critical problem at hand of storage. With restrictions on movement of goods and activity at wholesale markets, fear is of farm production numbers getting distorted and income being adversely affected, as private players will take advantage and procure their crops at a much lower price. Agriculture is indeed in a very delicate state and relief is urgent.
Yogi No To Social Distancing
UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath says a big boo to ‘social distancing’, the lockdown, while his cops punish migrant workers as they try to head back to villages or as PM Modi said with folded hands to the nation’s citizens to ‘stay home’, Yogi chose to do opposite. With group of priests, senior officers among others he performed a ceremony to shift Ram Lalla’s idol to a temporary temple at Manas Bhawan so that construction of Ram temple can begin. For him performing the puja, was being ‘lucky as the opportunity comes in ages.” Be that as it may, he should have heeded to PM’s appeal, set an example of social distancing by postponing the ceremony. After all 9-day celebrations in Ayodhya for the anticipated 15-lakh odd devotees was postponed. Why didn’t he prioritise instead the plight of poor migrant workers, without work and walking miles to reach their villages or promptly act against the policemen using their lathis on these poor to enforce the lockdown? Yogi would do well to remember the golden head of spirituality is the compassion. Will he at least heed to the rule of the Lord?
Kashmir Political Detainees
Will the 21-day lockdown see the release of all political detainees in Kashmir, is a big question doing the rounds in the Valley. More so, after NC leader Omar Abdullah tweeted after his release of being in detention for ‘232 days’ at Srinagar subsidiary jail at Hari Niwas: hoping his former counterpart Mehbooba Mufti, would too be set free along with other detainees. Continued detention, he said was “callous and cruel,” and “there was never much justification to detain everyone in the 1st place & none at all to keep them detained as the country enters a 3-week lockdown.” He chose not to talk about politics as he had thought while in detention. Instead, he chose to say: One, we have to fight coronavirus and two, all of our people who are incarcerated in jails, either within or outside J&K, should be released and be allowed to return to their families…” Is the Centre listening? Will the others, be able to break bread with their families like he did on Tuesday? Sooner the better!
Bihar’s Wasteful Security
Bihar certainly has its priorities wrong. The State exchequer has incurred a cumulative loss of Rs 15 crore in past 10 years for providing security to over 125 former MPs, MLAs and their family, mainly belonging to ruling JD (U), several builders, contractors, among others. Worse, authorities ignored a ruling of Patna High Court in 2005, and instructions of Home department which said ‘only ministers, MPs, MLAs, MLCs, judicial services officers, commissioners, secretaries and heads of government departments can be given bodyguards and others would have to pay for it. It reasoned that a person who has paying capacity should get security provided he pays it because “police personnel are deputed on security guard at risk of life and property of other citizens”. But it hasn’t been the case between 2010-11 and 2019-20, as found out by an RTI activist. Worse, no heed has been paid to court’s warning that ‘if the money is not paid to government, those responsible for providing security (DMs and SPs) have to pay to the State exchequer”. An analysis of 27 of 38 districts reveals the order remains only on paper! State authorities conveniently claim ignorance. Need to knock on HC door again?
Hyderabad may well be the barometer on impact of lockdown on a section of urban India – hostellers. After the lockdown, hundreds of students staying in private hostels descended in front of police stations seeking permission to go back to their native homes, as hostel managements closed down their premises, the mess and said leave. With borders closed, the authorities have been forced to act. One, they have asked municipal authorities to urge managers of hostel/PG accommodation to cooperate. But as most of those affected prefer going home, option to arrange 3,000-odd passes after verifying credentials including Aadhar card and ask them to hire vehicles and head home has been given. A plan alright, but will it succeed? Will drivers be willing to ferry them across? Will instructions be given at check posts for honouring passes? Many a finger would be crossed for a smooth ride back home.
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