May 1, 2020, 8:15 PM
Noted advocate Shyam Dewani speaks about rehashing COVID-19 lockdown to ensure the restoration of livelihood across the country.
Shyam Dewani

Noted advocate from Nagpur Shyam Dewani speaks about COVID-19 lockdown – the pros and cons and how can the government bring about some changes in the lockdown, if further extended, to ensure the restoration of livelihood across the country.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has hit like tsunami – shutting activities in most economies simultaneously, but some forecasters are more optimistic about prospects of recovery once the worst has passed. Unlike other natural disaster, this pandemic has not left any physical destruction in its wake, which may well facilitate a quicker recovery. The only better solution the state could find to combat against Coronavirus is closing of entire nation through lockdown and home quarantine oneself. Lockdown seems to be an unpredictable change across the globe, which has not only transformed the daily routine of each individual but has also reversed the living pattern of humanity in this technological era. However, it is just a temporary change, which we all are undergoing in form of a fight against Coronavirus disease and indeed lockdown is a preventive measure implemented by the State to control further spread of this virus is undoubtedly an appropriate move required during this crucial phase. However, it is pertinent to reflect upon the genuine issues arising out the lockdown, posing predicament to the common man.

Maharashtra Government had directed closure of all establishments in malls, gyms, swimming pools, and theatres initially from 18th March 2020. Then there was self-imposed curfew on 22nd March 2020, which was followed by Government of Maharashtra ordering for closure of all except some necessary establishments and offices by imposing curfew with effect from 23rd March 2020. Then Government of India ordered for a nationwide lockdown for a period of 21 days from the midnight of 25th March 2020.

While all were waiting for lockdown to be lifted on 14th April 2020, much before the expiry of the said period, initially Government of Maharashtra and then Government of India ordered for further extension of the same. As a result of which there is complete lockdown till 3rd May 2020. While declaring the same, the Honourable Prime Minister has hinted that the authorities, upon reassessing the situation, will take further decision in respect of continuation or lifting of the said period of lockdown.

Amidst this nationwide lockdown, the COVID-19 pandemic is giving rise to feelings and experiences to Indians, as they seem to have slowed down within themselves resulting in introspection of one. The unwanted material things, which are heavily relied upon, actually hold no real value in practical life has been understood by many. Some people have learnt new skills be it unknowingly such as cooking, crafting, etc., some have explored new hobbies, while some have found time to live their passion.

This situation has made few things easy to deal with, as in if we focus into depth, we can analyse few advantages and disadvantages of this national lockdown.

→People seem to indulge into family rejoice and love.

→Less pollution and less consumption of fuels and minerals.

→It is possible now for women to continue to work from home without escaping their domestic job.

→Confidence amongst employers and employees to successfully undertake concept of work from home to a greater extent.

→Role of digitalisation has been expanding day by day eg: Webinar, artificial intelligence, etc.

→Citizens are providing livelihood support to poor and vulnerable.

On the contrary, there are more adverse consequences of COVID-19 lockdown that has brought to halt the world at one stage:

  • ⇒Whole economy of nation has been affected due to worst economic downturn. It is almost a COVID-19 recession year.
  • ⇒Citizens of our country are rendered unemployed due to economical imbalance and financial crises.
  • ⇒Justice delivery system seems to be hampered.
  • ⇒Area of work place that requires actual performance of manpower at fieldwork is put on stake.
  • ⇒Steep fall in consumption. Scarcity of daily needs of society has been compromised.
  • ⇒Education of every student has got stalled.
  • ⇒Apathy towards medical and para medical team in treating human lives.
  • ⇒Significant disruption across multiple sectors, ultimately hampering global supply chain.
  • ⇒Sectors that may be hit the most by COVID-19 are – Tourism, Hospitality, Electronic Goods, Textile, Automobile, Gems Jewellery and other luxury items.
  • ⇒Besides, there are various practical difficulties being faced, while considering essential necessities, such as:

→For a transporter, even if he is permitted to ply his vehicle, for want of opening of repair/puncture/tyre/accessories shops, in the event of failure of the vehicle, the plying of the vehicle is of no use, in as much as, he will be required to stop his vehicle at the place, where it fails/stops, for want of these facilities. Same is the case with the truck and other vehicle drivers, who are required to ply their vehicles for hundreds and thousands of kilometres, but have no facilities on highways to eat food or even have tea etc.  

→For a person, be it of an professional level or a labourer earning his livelihood by working in any establishment, if he is wearing spectacles, the services of opticians, is most essential for him, in the event any damage is caused to his glasses or spectacles.

→For a person, working from home, be it on computer, laptop or any other electronic gadget, repair and servicing of the said gadget is most important for him, in as much as, in the event of failure of working of his gadget and non availability of the repair or service facilities to his gadget, is bound to hamper his working.

→There are many hospitals, where patients are mainly from out station and there are no facilities of in-house canteen in such hospitals. The patients and relatives attending the patients, used to depend on the nearby restaurants and eateries for food etc. However because of blanket stoppage of the functioning of all the restaurants, it is seriously affecting patients and their relatives, who are visiting city for getting treatment for some ailment and do not have any relatives in the said city.  

→There are many perishable items, which are stored in the shops or establishments, which are ordered to be close down, without even giving time to take steps for preserving or disposing of the said perishable items. Time and again we have seen the news that for want of getting customers milk is being thrown, in as much as, all the facilities for reuse of milk by some processing, like making sweets, ice creams, butter etc., are close down. There is no provision even by the administration to collect and store the milk and give fair price of the milk, as a result of which the people, whose livelihood was depending on selling milk, are also seriously affected.

In the houses there might be some plumbing issues but the services of plumbers are not available. Even if the services of the plumber are made available, the required instruments or items to fix the issues are not available, which will make it impossible to fix the issue.   Similar is the case with a carpenter or mason, even if their services are made available, then the equipments and the material to fix the same is not available due to lock down. Same is the case with the electricians and other mechanics, whose services are essential for daily pursuit.  

During this period of lockdown, we have seen enforcing social distancing is very difficult. Massive crowds of migrant workers demand assistance. Community kitchens feed the needy but entail crowding. Bus and train services have been stopped to curb crowding, but millions of migrant workers are marching home in groups travelling hundreds of kilometres, ignoring social distancing. In crowded markets and slums, people cannot stay six feet apart for long. The facilities of making available vegetables, fruits at various places, also had attracted gathering of hundreds of people, sans following social distancing norms.

Countries have classified shutdowns ranging from mild to very stringent (like India’s). These are causing the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression. But many experts contest the accuracy or even validity of the Imperial College model, for slowing and suppressing the outbreak.

Late Friday night, i.e. on 24th April, 2020, while Ministry of Home, Government of India has issued an order permitted all shops in residential areas, neighbourhood and standalone shops, except those in the malls to reopen with certain conditions like that wearing of masks, gloves and adherence to social distancing norms will be mandatory. The said order was considered as a huge relief by the shopkeepers and buyers, who were sitting idle at home since last more than a month. However, State Government immediately thereafter declared that the decision in respect to the same will be taken after meeting with Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday the 27th April, 2020.

After Modi’s interaction with the chief ministers of all states and union territories via video-conferencing on Monday morning to get their feed backs before extending/ putting out a lockdown exit strategy plan, leave apart implementing above relaxation, most of the state governments, including the Maharashtra Government, appears to be considering extending the lockdown. In the red zone cities like Mumbai, Thane, Nagpur and Pune etc, it appears to be forgone conclusion that the lockdown will be extended till May 15th or 18th. Whereas the state appears to be contemplating guidelines for reopening businesses in green zones and parts of orange zones after May 3, when this second phase of lockdown will end.

This is bound to upset many people as it is taking a toll on livelihood of lakhs of Indians. No doubt, the world is going through the pain of pandemic and the government is aiming to fight it by lockdown. However, at the same time many people are bearing the brunt of no income, no resources and no facilities to sustain life. Many are facing agony of separation from children, family members, who are away from them because of lockdown they are not in a position to even meet and thus the entire situation is creating frustration and depression in the society.

Lockdown is no doubt a workable solution to fight with the invisible virus despite being tiny has monstrous impact on human life. But, the government needs to focus on a pragmatic and safe manner of proceeding with lockdown, which must ensure that proper balance is maintained and in true sense, we are in a position to ensure achieving the phrase said by Modiji, ‘Jaan bhi, Jahan bhi.’

The daily wagers could become part of government team to build system for managing the flow of services for few hours of the day, where emergency of transport services and few life-sustaining facilities are needed. People have lost income and salary. There is no money and people are forced to leave homes. The food market has become costly and social service could sustain for few days. People are not getting support in this time, where there is a need to sustain economy.

In order to go on with the spirit to spirit to serve the needy, protection of seniors and children, healthy people need to coordinate to synergies emergency to build and design essential services for managing the pandemic in this serious situation of world. It is not only medicine, food and groceries, which are essentials but there are other necessities of the life, which needs to be taken care of.

No doubt both the governments and administration are doing good work with efforts to make people understand the importance of lockdown and at the same time enforcing and ensuring that the people stay safe at their homes. Steps are also being taken to keep all the places clean and sanitised and providing proper health facilities. The doctors, other health workers and COVID-19 warriors are working for longs hours to fight the virus, but still there are several things, which need to be taken into consideration, while taking a decision about further extension of the lockdown. As stated herein above there are many more essential services, which are required to be considered, though essential service being a relative term.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts India’s GDP growth will drop to 1.9%, which is as bad as it was in 1991. If social distancing does not work and the economy fails to revive in the second half of 2020, the IMF says growth will be deeply negative, the worst performance since independent India. This economic disaster will create massive misery that will exacerbate illness and deaths. So, a prolonged shutdown may kill and make more people miserable than it saves.

It was noticed that there was absolutely no provision for regulating the prices of the necessities, which were made available. The difficulties were faced for want of provision for transportation facilities, even during the emergent situations, for want of any provision for emergency flights, trains and other transport facilities.

It was also noticed that agriculture and farming were also not being promoted properly and with the imposition of the absolute restrictions, planting is also bound to be affected, which may consequently affect production of food, grain etc. In fact, the worst hit group unfortunately is the farmers’ community. The entire crop, which is the only source of livelihood for the farmers, has either dried up or rotten in the farms as no system in place to transport the yield in time.

It is being said that while taking decision for the further exit from the lockdown, the PM has asked all CMs to classify their respective sates into Red, Orange and Green zones. This indicates that the lockdown could be extended in hotspots or Red zones.  How far this graded system will work is doubtful, in as much as, the Red Zones are being identified on city basis rather than on the basis of hot spots.

For an example in Nagpur, barring few areas of the city, all other areas of the city are healthy areas, where no person with positive COVID-19 were found, still since in some part of the city, positive cases were found, even if other parts are far away from the said parts, they cannot be declared as Green or Orange Zone and be permitted to resume the work even partially. Thus, while considering the extension of lockdown 2.0, it was expected to be limited to containment zones, rather than based on this criteria of considering entire city to be Red Zone, in the event some cases are found in some parts of the city.

However, it seems states are still wary of acting on the Union Home Ministry’s directive that stand-alone shops selling non-essential goods may open in non-containment or non-hotspot zones. While Maharashtra and many other states have understandably refused to allow neighbourhood stand-alone shops to open until the situation comes under complete control. Telangana, which has recorded 991 cases with 26 deaths, has however, already made a move by extending lockdown 2.0 till May 7. Many other states including Maharashtra have indicated that they will extend the lockdown for a further period of about two weeks or so.

Over all, it can be averred that lockdown is indisputably the only solution at present to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Nonetheless, it is exceedingly significant to continue lockdown with modifications to the effect of slowly and steadily getting life on its routine track by relaxing few provisions of lockdown. It is immensely important to allow the economy to roll on even if in slow pace but total shut down will result not only in financial disaster but loss of human lives in the nation.

It is to be borne in mind that it is the duty of the government to take an immediate call on this in the interest of the society at large and at the same time it is the duty of each one us to religiously follow social distancing.  The COVID-19 being a horrendous task to overcome this it needs a multidimensional approach, which can be succeeded not merely by lockdown but by allowing some relaxations for people making an attempt to regularise life in bits and parts if not in totality.

We dreamt of India being a super power in 2020, now in this appalling scenario let us hope the government and the common man play their roles properly to revive India back to normal, demonstrating the true power and spirit of India to the whole world.

My endeavour through this representation is to bring to your kind notice the problems being faced by the common man.  While the entire nation stands united to fight the pandemic, my only concern is that a balanced approach may be adopted to fight the pandemic, so that the health of the economy is restored at the earliest thus reducing the sufferings of the common.  With this spirit, I request to kindly consider the suggestions while framing further guidelines to extend the lockdown, if required.”

Also read: India needs Rs 65,000 crore to help poor affected by COVID-19 crisis: Raghuram Rajan to Rahul Gandhi

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