Harvest Season: Anxiety hits states, farmers
Nagging uncertainty lingers over the harvest season. States and farmers are anxious as the lockdown impacts their produce. The Centre should have done its homework before the sudden lockdown. There is danger of food grains and vegetables rotting and perishing due to acute shortage of labour, gone back to their villages and transportation blockade impacting truck movement across States carrying the produce. New Delhi should have kept States in the loop as mandis need to be kept open, labour should have been given confidence to stay back with packages announced and trucks transporting the essentials be allowed. But with none of these considered the harvesting of winter crops is making States, such as Punjab, Haryana and UP jittery. Not the present crop alone, but planting of next shall be hit. The list of woes is long: The ICAR has advised wheat farmers to postpone their harvest to April 20; Punjab desperately needs gunny bags to store the grains and has knocked on West Bengal doors; there is a scurry for harvesting machines; planting of summer ‘moong’ pulses is a challenge for farmers in Madhya Pradesh, UP, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan; wages are menacingly increasing and shall hit the producer etc. Are we heading for worse times, unprecedented food crisis or simply hunger crisis? Experts warn, but can Centre prove them wrong?
TN Must Get More Funds
Tamil Nadu is upset with the Centre. Allocation of Rs 510 crore disaster risk management fund so far to fight conronavirus is seen as unfair. On Wednesday last, the Madras High Court, in an interim order, directed New Delhi to ‘positively’ consider raising the States’ share given that of 5,194 people infected across the country till date, TN stood second with 690 patients while Maharashtra was first with 1,018 patients. It impleaded Home Ministry as respondent, saying quantum allocated to TN “was lower than the apportionment to States that have lesser COVID-19 cases.” However, hastened to add it was “not against allotment of more fund to other states, but concerned about TN getting lesser amount!” A PIL was filed by an NGO, India Awake for Transparency, seeking AIADMK government ensure 100% testing of all, who were exempted from lockdown. It did so, as well as ordered police to arrest all who were violating prohibitory orders and seize vehicles and asked authorities to verify persons “who are without food and shelter,” (daily wagers, migrant workers and platform dwellers) and provide them by having community kitchens. Worth a watch if both governments do justice.
Odisha Doesn’t Wait
Odisha wants to take no chances. On Thursday last, it announced the lockdown will extend till April-end. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik decided not to wait for Prime Minister Modi’s final call on future course of action after deliberating with States. Governments of UP, MP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Telangana are said to be mulling over extension of lockdown for another two weeks, given that some 300 districts have at least one confirmed case and the number of deaths are on the rise. However, there is also a school of thought that there be a staggered exit strategy with an eye on hotspots in the 732-odd districts across the country. Be that as it may, Odisha has announced that schools and educational institutions shall remain closed till June 17 and has requested the Centre to continue the ban on air and train services till 30 April. Like many others, Patnaik believes “Life will not be the same ever. All of us must understand this and face it boldly together. With our sacrifice and with the blessing of Lord Jagannath, this too shall pass!”
MPs Upset With Centre
Not done, say Opposition MPs to Centre’s diktat on their MPLADs (Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme). On Monday last, the Centre chose to suspend MPLADs for two years, till 2022, i.e. Rs 7,900-odd crore and transfer into Consolidated Fund of India, to buy ‘medical equipment, testing and screening of patients and development of medical infrastructure’. Withdraw the order demand some MPs and leaders of Opposition parties such as Congress, TMC, CPI, RJD, Shiv Sena, TDP, YSR Congress etc as they should have been consulted first. Their protest: it’s a knee-jerk reaction like 4-hour notice lockdown; unilateral decision, will prove detrimental to parliamentary democracy; willing to forego over 30 % cut in MPs salary instead; gross injustice to take away MPs prerogative to spend fund according to their voters; will make MPs redundant and enforce presidential form of government; first scrap ‘vanity projects’ like Rs 20,000 crores redevelopment of Central Vista and BJP donate all “opaque” electoral bonds! Last but not least, the move warn MPs will ‘weaken fight against pandemic’, as Centre seeks to consolidate power in its own hands not realising it is being best fought at State and local level!
Kashmir’s Advance Guard
Kashmir has a lot more on its plate that it can handle. Unlike the rest of the country which is dealing with COVID-19, the Valley has to keep a double watchful eye on the border and its neighbour. The assessment by the UN, that ‘terrorist or extremist groups may take profit from the uncertainty created by the spread of the pandemic,’ appears to be on the dot at least here. Five commandos belonging to an elite unit of Army were killed on Sunday last along the Line of Control in Kashmir in “an intense hand-to-hand battle” with an equal number of terrorists who had infiltrated in the Keran sector killed too. The army said it was a daring operation, in heavy snow and difficult terrain and commandos from 4 Para (SF) had to be called in to take over. With summer setting in, infiltration across the border as is known will increase and in a major way. Both Kashmir administration and the Centre will need to be extra alert as this time round, the situation due to the invisible enemy, the virus, seeks extra attention. Will Pakistan eventually pay heed to UN appeal for global ceasefire? Many in Kashmir sadly would say a big No!
Traditional Vs National Lockdown
Strong community values and high literacy rate can do wonders –a message from Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram to rest of country. So far these N-E states are said to have one patient each. How? An ancient ritual has aided AP authorities to have people stay indoors voluntarily. There are 26 tribes and the State has a history of following an ancient ritual of lockdown ‘Arrue’ — self-quarantine during epidemic outbreak. Having ensured adequate food, medicine and other essential supplies, self-quarantine began in every village with prayers wherein a deity is invited to protect its people from diseases. No entry and exit to and from villages is to happen till epidemic ceases! Likewise, Mizoram has a story. The State in fact announced lockdown a day before Modi did after setting up a State-level committee with various NGOs and church leaders to enforce it. Plus, people in Aizawl recently observed ‘Palm Sunday’, a religious festival where people were within home premises holding palm leaves and chanting with the priest reciting prayers. The same procedure was followed in each and every village, and within regulations. Time to go back to basics?
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