Restless Labour: Govt not doing enough
Words without deeds don’t count. A simple message which sadly both the Centre and States seem to ignore, in the midst of growing restlessness among daily and migrant workers across the country. Even after the first 21-day lockdown, a system is not in place to make this vulnerable section feel cared for. Instead, their captivity in cities is extended till May 3 following extension of lockdown. With borders sealed and uncertainty of getting two meals a day, these workers yearn to go back home, for not only is the relief package too little, but they miss and are concerned about their families. There is bound to be a reaction and impatience is rising. So we saw on Tuesday last, a 2,000-strong crowd of migrant workers gathered at Mumbai’s Bandra railway station demanding passage back to their native States. But they were dispersed, faced lathicharge and sent packing to their ill-equipped shelter camps. This despite, New Delhi asking all States and UTs to take “welfare measures, including provision of food, shelter, medicine, mobile and video call facilities and counselling, for migrants living in shelter homes across the country.”
However, it takes two to tango. New Delhi must aid the States well and give a relief package they seek. The lockdown has caused misery to tens and thousands of poor labourers. Last week saw hundreds of workers employed in textile industry of Surat, Gujarat, pouring on to streets demanding transport and permission to go back to their villages; In Delhi, migrant labourers reportedly set three shelter homes on fire on Sunday last, after an argument with staff over food; in Aurangabad, a sub-divisional police officer and a health department team were attacked on Wednesday last and a BDO and three cops roughed up in Areraj, East Champaran when they went to create awareness on social distancing; the same day, 150-odd migrant labourers and their families, natives of MP and Chhattisgarh, staying around Katraj area, Pune, started their journey home, about 1,000 km away, on foot only to be sent back before they could cross the city limits; hundreds of chili-pickers from Vidarbha and MP districts in AP and Telangana are demanding to go home as their task is over; on Thursday last 30 textile workers in Surat were stopped by police while trying to return home on foot…Such distressing stories are never ending, some not even reported. Time to see the writing on the wall.
Secular Fibre Damaged
The country’s secular fibre gets further damaged. COVID-19 adds another casualty to its long list i.e. the virus is encouraging enmity between different groups on grounds of religion. Ahmedabad, in state of Gujarat, may just have scratched the scars of the 2002 communal riots as it signals distressing news: the 1200-bed Ahmedabad Civil Hospital has separated wards handling coronavirus patients for Hindus and Muslims! A report quotes its Medical Superintendent saying ‘usually wards were separated on basis of gender, but in this hospital, they have segregated wards on the basis of faith, and this was done as per State government’s decision.” But the BJP-ruled government denies it: ‘no such instructions were given …patients are kept in different wards based on their medical condition, severity of symptoms and age, purely based on treating doctors’ advice.’ However, patients accounts suggest names of 28 men admitted in the first ward were called out (belonging to one community) and they were all shifted to another without citing any reason. The direct action obviously has sent disturbing messages, in the backdrop of reports from other States like UP, Haryana, Punjab wherein members of minority community are said to be discriminated in form of vegetable vendors either being stopped from selling their goods or people being told not to buy from them. The trend is frightening indeed and must be contained.
Kerala’s Phased Relaxation
God’s own country continues to lead the way. On Thursday last, Kerala spelt out its plans of a phased easing of lockdown. Chief Minister Vijayan, praised for his deft handling of the pandemic, committed to follow Centre’s guidelines and announced grouping of districts into 4 Zones based on number of active/positive cases: Zone 1 has 4 districts with higher restrictions, where full lockdown will continue till May 3; Zone II with 3 districts will have partial exemptions from April 24 as positive cases are less; Zone III with 5 districts, including capital Thiruvananthapuram, with minimum cases will see partial relaxation after April 20 with shops/restaurants (only parcel) to remain open till 7 pm, though hotspots will remain sealed; Zone IV with 2 districts with no cases, will have minimum restrictions, travel will be allowed after April 20, but use of masks, sanitisers will be mandatory. General restrictions such as inter-State/inter-district travel won’t be permitted during the lockdown period; restrictions on public transport, closure of education and training institutes, religious places, cinema theatres and places of public gathering remains. However, soon there will be a phased opening up of construction and traditional sectors like coir, cashew, beedi and handicrafts; agriculture sector, plantation sector, cooperative institutions, among others. Getting the people back to normal life is now the goal.
Breather For Convicts
Thousands of convicts and undertrials will taste freedom again, albeit briefly. The pandemic ironically will give them a breather. Most governments have readily agreed to follow Supreme Court’s directive to reduce overcrowding and prevent virus’ spread in prisons. Rajasthan is the latest State to release 638 inmates either on “interim bail” or “emergency parole,”; Delhi released 419 inmates of 3,000 proposed from Tihar Jail; Tamil Nadu 1,180 from 9 central prisons; Odisha 80 so far of 1,727 inmates proposed; Assam 41; Gujarat shall release 1,200 prisoners; UP and Maharashtra 11,000 each from 71 and 60 prisons respectively, MP 12,000-odd; Punjab 6000 and Uttarakhand 855. However, governments need to think long term. National Crime Records Bureau 2018 statistics reveal India has over 4.5 lakh prison inmates– about 17.6% more than their capacity. Examples being: TN has a capacity of 10,000 but has over 18,000 inmates; UP houses double — 1,04,011 instead of 58,914; Maharashtra 36,195’s instead of 24,032; MP 45,000-odd against a capacity of 29,000 etc. Prison authorities must set their house in order. Sooner the better.
Assam and Meghalaya may have raised many an eyebrow. Liquor shops in both these north-eastern States have been allowed to open their shutters since Monday last for seven hours a day! The order of Excise department in Assam to the Deputy Commissioners says shops can open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and work with bare minimum staff, not more than 50%, provide hand sanitisers to customers and staff while handling the bottles and cash. Further, wholesale warehouses, bottling plants, distilleries and breweries too can be open but must accommodate staff within their premises and arrange food and other amenities for them. Any violation will invite cancellation of their excise licence, is a warning. Meghalaya has justified its decision saying consumption of alcohol is a way of life in the State. The ruling MDA had first allowed home delivery of alcohol, but later withdrew its order and now has approved opening of wine shops and bonded warehouse from 9 am to 4.p.m. subject to strict compliance similar to Assam. Will other States follow suit, is worth a watch.