Stop food politics, it may lead to riots (By Cleofato Almeida Coutinho)

By Cleofato A Coutinho
01 April 2020 12:35 IST

There cannot be a second thought on “social distancing”. Medical fraternity is unanimous that isolation is the best method to break the chain of the spread of Corona virus. The only other method adopted by other countries is testing and more testing. This requires a huge infrastructure as people with no symptoms are tested and isolated and a country such as ours can ill afford this method. All medical giants have confirmed that we have a limited testing capacity, given the gigantic size of our population.  In absence of this, a shutdown appears imperative... The Prime Minister is the Commander and his orders on public safety and health shall have to be followed and enforced by the might of the State.

The need is of physical distancing – social distancing may not be the correct terminology. A lockdown is brought about only to ensure physical distancing. Parks and public spaces could have been kept open if citizens would act disciplined and ensure physical distancing. Closure of public places is tolerable to ensure physical distancing. The lockdown needs to be honoured in these emergent times when death statistics and Corona-affected people around the world are increasing with each day.

 The way essentials and daily food is handled in a small state like Goa needs no special scrutiny. Why   citizenry panicked is only due to flip flops leading to trust deficit. Planning is the key to a lockdown success.  Brutalising or socially shaming to keep the violators will never work. It is not known whether shoot-at-sight would keep the hungry away from searching for food.   People rushed to every shop to make provisions for 21 days after the 4 hours of window given by Prime Minister. Those who did not stock their fridges did what was best, despite the fear of getting infected. The fear of hunger is always unreasonable.

Expecting the poor and hungry to abide by restrictions imposed by lockdown is too much of an expectation when there is no plan in place to provide food at their door step. The   vilification of the vulnerable over their violating the lockdown restrictions by those who have the comfort of viewing the Ramayana only shows their contempt for the poor. The arrival of CISF was in fact celebrated as liberation forces to deal with the migrants and those in search of food.

This is not a riot curfew but a public safety shutdown intended to go a long way in reducing the transmission of the Corona Virus chain. But no doubt this is a public safety curfew requiring more discipline. Where on earth are curfews without relaxations? Riot curfews in particular are relaxed periodically, allowing people to tie their ends for their day-to day-living.

The biggest tragedy of the lockdown in Goa is that food is at the disposal of politicians. Some are powerful enough to divert trucks of vegetables and grocery items to their constituencies. The food chain has been completely hijacked. Looks like campaigning for 2022 Assembly elections has already begun. Some face difficulties as the state administration is hostile. Lot has been written over the fact that these are trying times and the state and nation and the need of cooperation.

No doubt the public men have to   be proactive in mitigating the suffering arising out the unplanned lockdown. The emergent situation calls for national solidarity to be dealt with malice to none. But after cutting the food supply chain to divert food and daily necessaries to certain satraps, pushing the citizenry at their mercy is certainly not acceptable. Of course certain persons are fortunate to get the help of minister, MLA, councillor or member of panchayat to have essentials delivered at their door step. Why is the job of delivery not taken over by the administration so that there are no complaints of food politics? Some in power and some who wish to be in power are all over on social media advertising their skills in providing free food packets and their prowess in diverting vegetable trucks

People do not want free food. Free food is for destitute. People want food items available at the nearest kirana stores to buy them without crowding. But how that is possible when the satraps have hijacked the entire stocks and borders do not permit free flow?

The central government notification made it clear that essential supplies and milk booths were exempted. It is always the federal government that decides on intra and interstate commerce. If the Goa government had to file an affidavit before the high court, it was precisely because of the central guidelines under the draconian Disaster Management Act and there was no plan in place for door delivery of food and essentials. Despite a large no of cases and highly populous state, Maharashtra CM Thackeray did a commendable job in dealing with essential supplies. There are no major complaints over shortage or overcrowding at groceries. Why did Goa fail despite high literacy and other favourable parameters?

 The government’s intentions on breaking the chain are not questioned but the resultant panic in the already charged atmosphere is what led to the outrage. A lockdown requires huge mobilization of public resources and services to provide essential items to those shut indoors. Goods need to be kept moving through the markets and State borders so that they reach the locked in. There is a saying in Konkani that one should not think of digging a well after one gets thirsty.

Public health and safety comes first. The lockdown is in that direction. A lockdown can succeed only when food security is assured and those locked in know that the government has a plan in place to see that essential items shall reach their doorsteps. If food security is not taken care of, there could be resultant hunger leading to riots.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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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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