In dealing with the health and economic crisis, the Central government’s apathy is disappointing.
The Prime Minister’s speech created panic even for the well-off. For the most vulnerable, it triggered a huge exodus from the cities.
They were given neither time to prepare for the unplanned lockdown nor support to cope with it.
A few days into the lockdown, either as an afterthought or due to public pressure, a relief package was announced, but it is woefully inadequate.
For a government that cares so much about optics, the lack of acknowledgement of, let alone relief for, the millions of migrant workers who are stranded without work, money or transport was perplexing.
The government chose to ignore the plight of migrants even though a solution exists.
School buildings, community halls and stadiums can serve as temporary shelters.
Food grains can be supplied in these places for workers to run self-managed community kitchens for themselves, with hygiene protocols.
They can prepare food packets (to reduce crowding) for anyone who is hungry. The more shelters and community kitchens, the less crowding there will be.
Though there is a glimmer of hope from State governments, they lack sufficient resources as they are still owed their GST refund by the Centre.
Kerala has been at the forefront of fighting the disease spread and planning for a lockdown. When Anganwadis and schools had to be shut down, Kerala initiated dry ration supplies to their homes.
When other States also shut down schools and Anganwadis, the Supreme Court took suo motu notice of Kerala’s actions.
In response, the Central government issued an advisory to provide cooked meals or food security allowance. Jharkhand opted for cash.
During the lockdown, when people are being asked to stay home and supply chains are in danger of being disrupted, what sense does it make to give cash?
Some States are also learning from one another: community kitchens already exist in some States such as Tamil Nadu. Others like Kerala and Delhi have quickly scaled up.
Other relief measures include advance payment of social security pensions, free PDS ration, food packets for those who are not covered by the PDS and free bus travel (Rajasthan).
One welcome announcement on March 26 was the doubling of PDS rations for the coming three months.
Here too, Central inaction and class bias are evident. While a Personnel Ministry order says biometric attendance for Central government employees will be stopped, to reduce the risk of community transmission, no such order from the Food Ministry has come yet.
Some States have already suspended biometric authentication for buying PDS ration.
Biometric authentication has been a source of exclusion (example, when authentication failed) from the PDS. Suspending it will help further.
The Centre should support the States’ actions and learn from them. Before it is too late, the Centre itself must act by increasing resource allocation and setting up sector-specific committees to facilitate prompt responses.
Q.1) With reference to the community transmission of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), consider the following statements:
1. Community spread is when you know the source of the infection.
2. Coronavirus disease spreads primarily through contact with an infected person when they cough or sneeze. Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
A. 1 only
B. 2 only
C. Both 1 and 2