Will there be a consensus over continuance of the lockdown? (Cleofato Almeida Coutinho)

By Cleofato A Coutinho
09 April 2020 21:43 IST

It is almost certain that the 21-day lockdown will be extended in some form or other. The central government lockdown followed the states of Kerala, Maharashtra and Delhi. Kerala and Maharashtra did very well in seeing to it that essential and necessary items of daily consumption were available. Obviously a populous state like Maharashtra could not arrange door deliveries. The groceries were open 24x7 to avoid overcrowding. Kerala pioneered the community kitchens to reach. Delhi expanded the supply of rations. The pangs of shutdown were not felt there.  It is these states in particular that are in the forefront of demanding an extension of the lockdown. No doubt Telangana and Karnataka have also done well in containing the virus and also want the lockdown to continue.

The good part of the lifting or extension of the lockdown is the debate, discussion and deliberation over how the nation shall function after 14th April, unlike the unplanned announcement on 22nd March, giving the country less than three and half hours to prepare for a twenty one days shutdown. A little planning could have avoided the misery the migrants of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh faced. Talking about the Chief Ministers, some of whom had already  successfully introduced shutdowns, would have gone a long way. Thousands of labourers also left Maharashtra without the kind of humiliation and suffering that came to migrants leaving Delhi. The Rabi harvesting season was also forgotten in the hurry of announcement.

We looked at the Pandemic COVID 19 as an enemy in a war. In a war, the commander’s word is the law to be followed by the foot soldiers. Irrespective of the differences over planning, the citizens stood in solidarity behind the decision as virus was engulfing the Europe and had reached our doorstep.  Amartya Sen has correctly summed up that this is a social calamity to be dealt with by cooperation of all unlike. Listening is central in the government task of preventing a calamity. The debate in the country over lives and economy is extremely healthy. The view of the top economists that the lockdown could lead to hunger and further  misery is worth taking note of in taking any major decision.

There is no dispute that India has not been hit hard by the pandemic as the European countries and USA. The unplanned lockdown must have contributed its bit towards the low numbers. The advantage that we have accrued cannot be frittered away. It is in that context that he states are demanding the extension of the lockdown in some form. Whether we call it staggered exit or lifting in phases, lockdown in the present form cannot continue for long and forever.

 

If social distancing is the aim of lockdown, then the Rajnath Singh led group of ministers’ recommendations of ban on all religious activities with public participation and educational institutions remaining closed is welcome. The state borders remaining sealed is another welcome recommendation. Hot spots like Cinema theatres, Malls etc. could remain shut. Hotels, restaurants and pubs can also remain closed.

Goa University scheduling the third year examination from 1st June clearly suggests that the outer limit of even a partial lockdown could be 30th May For state like Goa which has not been affected much must remain isolated and rapid testing conducted to confirm our position. With the charter tourism time over, domestic tourism must not be encouraged at this stage.  Michael Lobo’s press briefing after the cabinet meeting hinted at tourism beginning from 1st May. The industry that depends upon people travelling and enjoying their lives may have to wait for a long time to settle. In fact tourism and hospitality industry shall have to reinvent itself. How long borders shall remain shut and whether international borders could at all be opened is a matter the central government shall have to take a call. How the central government’s proposal to open low infection areas first, would work in light of Goa government deciding to continue the lockdown till 30th April is to be seen.

Looks like the government is eager to hasten the Rabi harvesting but after so much of fear, panic and paranoia will the labourers come out for harvesting purpose. The government may have to come out with special incentive, in case there is any will to save the Rabi crop and the farmers.

For the central government it is a tough call. Economy is in doldrums. Unemployment at an all-time high. Industry cannot survive without migration of labour. Even when the restrictions are eased, will the thousands who left the city come back? Continuance of lock down may bring in more misery to the downtrodden.  Economists tell us it is question of lives versus lives. Having taken a decision to go for a 21-day lockdown and enforcing it with the might of the state, it is only correct that the government errs on side of caution. The national COVID 19 positive cases crossed 5000 with 149 deaths and 1.5 million affected globally. The expected flattening of our curve has not yet started.

As the virus spreads faster, caution over health or caution over economy, a fine balance is required to be drawn. That is to be left to the experts both in the field of medicine and economics.   No doubt the Prime Minister shall have the last word. At least this time there will be a consensual decision.

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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Well balanced article dotor cleo

- Bhaskar, Margao | 10 th April 2020 14:20

 

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