Liquor shops open: States tipsy choice!
Social distancing goes for a tipsy toss with liquor shops across many States opening shutters. Since Monday last, serpentine queues for booze instead of food are hitting headlines. Governments including those of UP, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Karnataka and Delhi have shifted focus on rebooting the State exchequer rather than public health. Day one revealed UP registering over Rs 100 crore from liquor sales, Karnataka Rs 45 crore, Maharashtra Rs 11 crore, Tamil Nadu Rs 170 crore, or about 20 lakh litres (though it opened liquor shops on Thursday). The tipplers’ don’t seem to bother about hike in bottles’ price—70% in Delhi, 75% in Andhra (which should get Rs 9000 cr additional revenue), Karnataka deciding 17% additional excise on all brands next week. Interestingly, AP justifies the hike to ‘discourage alcohol consumption’, whereas Delhi’s AAP government calls it “special corona fee” as it eyes making up for Rs 645 crore in revenue from alcohol sale. However, a comment of commissioner, excise department in UP sums up the reality: “I don’t think there would be any single industry with just less than one lakh work force that gives Rs 100 crore revenue (to the state exchequer) in a day.” Shouldn’t the governments have considered whether the thekas (liquor stores) would squander away the gains made so far? Come to think of it, liquor is certainly not ‘essential’ and the over 40 days clampdown did not lead to protests. So why the tearing hurry?
Visakhapatnam gas leak draws a parallel to the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984. With both accidents taking place when the plants were being re-commissioned after days of shutdown, reveals that authorities simply don’t learn from mistakes. The gas leak at LG Polymer factory at the outskirts of Visakhapatnam on Thursday last has so far claimed 13 lives and affected 2,000-odd residents in five villages around the factory. Andhra Pradesh government has evacuated villagers around 2-km radius, offered monetary compensation and free treatment, and set up the usual high level inquiry. The Centre is too involved and dispatched a special team of NDRF to minimise damage and also of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Emergency to plug the breach at the plant. But this is not enough. Criminal negligence by both plant owners and authorities needs to be pinned. How was such a plant allowed to operate in the midst of human habitations? Was a vulnerable zone demarcated and nearby residents duly informed? Did the factory have environmental clearance, are questions that beg not just answers but firm action.
Kashmir’s Successful Hunt
The security forces in Kashmir have reason to be upbeat in COVID-19 times. Hizbul Mujahideen’s operational commander and most wanted terrorist Riyaz Naikoo was eliminated in an encounter in Awantipora on Wednesday last. Indeed, a feather in their cap, but there is need for caution, given a civilian was killed in clashes and stone pelting after word spread about it. Naikoo, a mathematics teacher in a private school, joined militant ranks in 2012 and was an aide of poster boy of militancy Burhan Wani, killed in July 2016, leading to months of unrest. Omar Abdullah tweeted: #RiyazNaikoo’s destiny was decided the moment he picked up the gun… His death mustn’t be used as an excuse by some to put more people in harms’ way by provoking violence & protests.” The caution is not misplaced. Administration anticipated public sympathy and protests. Mobile internet services were suspended before the encounter and cellular services shut after it. Normalcy will take time to return. Naikoo carried a reward of Rs 12 lakh yet it took 8 years to eliminate him. His killing, says Kashmir IGP “is a big success for us. Not only for security forces, but it will also bring relief to civilians”. Time will tell.
Vande Bharat Mission
Get your act together, is the best New Delhi can ask from 10 States and UTs. With the Centre’s ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ starting on Thursday last, nearly 15,000 Indians stranded overseas are expected to return on special Air India flights from 12 countries over a week. Of the 64 flights, 15 are to head to Kerala, 11 each to Delhi and Tamil Nadu, seven each to Maharashtra and Telangana, and the rest to Gujarat, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh from UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, the US, Malaysia, Male and Singapore. This apart, the Navy has for the first time, been roped in under Operation Samudra Setu. Kerala has got its first batch of 363 from UAE but is anxious for it has had to change its quarantine strategy, as all passengers need to be screened given there was no testing abroad. However, the State has shown the way again. Some 4.42 lakh people have registered their names for welfare of expatriates. Others must take a cue as the mission may turn out to be the nation’s largest evacuation operation since the Kuwait war, with numbers even going up to 2 lakh Indians!
The Centre-West Bengal duel in times of Corona is never ending. North Block and Writers Building are busy finding faults with each other. Following a feedback from its two teams in Kolkata and Jalpaiguri, the Ministry of Home Affairs has listed the lackadaisical approach of Didi’s administration: very low rate of testing; very high rate of mortality; lockdown violations of overcrowding in bazaars, free movement of people in large numbers without masks, people bathing in rives, playing cricket and football, serious laxity in enforcing lockdown in containment zones, plying of rickshaws; corruption in PDS et al. Bridge gaps in surveillance and contact tracing and effectively use Aarogya Setu app, is its advice. Didi hits back saying scrap Rs 20,000-crore Central Vista project, accuses it of using Arogya app for surveillance, acting late on the crisis as it was busy ‘honouring Donald Trump and horse trading in Madhya Pradesh’ and that Centre is hell bent on maligning and heckling us! Both may have their reasons but it’s time they got on the same page, at least to fight the real invisible enemy!
Karnataka does a flip flop. Under flak for forcibly trying to hold back labourers and violating human rights, the government had to do revisit its decision. Chief Minister Yediyurappa shockingly had opted for builders’ lobby request rather than of thousands of poor migrant workers who wanted to head home. On Tuesday last, all special trains were cancelled on grounds it’s in “their interest”! The government withdrew its request of special trains to Railways after a delegation of Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India met with the CM, who then said industrial, construction, trade activities need to be resumed and “labourers may avoid unnecessary travel back to their natives.” It also sought to wean them with his Rs 1610 crore economic stimulus package announced on Wednesday last offering 15 lakh-odd migrants, among others, Rs 5000 plus double ration. The clampdown gave bad publicity and 24 hours later, the government announced re-starting the trains. Yediyurappa realised it’s their choice to leave or stay and State can’t treat them as ‘bonded labour’. Fingers are crossed there is no more vacillation.