An urgent appeal to stop the Covid-19 cure from becoming worse than the disease ...
The Covid-19 pandemic, and the government’s response to it in the form of a hastily implemented national lockdown, has created an unprecedented crisis for the people of India. As the lockdown now enters its fifth week, from the perspective of the urban and rural poor who form the overwhelming majority of our population, the situation is increasingly one where the cure is proving to be much worse than the disease. As calls are being aired by certain sections to extend the lockdown beyond its May 3 deadline, we, the undersigned, urge the government to take up the following concerns immediately:
- The government must ensure that adequate food supplies reach the entire population – and particularly those sections that need it the most – during the period of lockdown and after. Regulations should be relaxed to provide universal access to PDS. It must also desist from ill-advised schemes such as utilising grain stock for making hand sanitiser solution. Care must also be taken to ensure nutritional quality in the food supply, essential for maintaining the immunity levels needed to resist any illness.
- The unplanned implementation of the lockdown has caused the deaths of several migrant workers and others, whose families must be compensated for this manmade tragedy. Due care must be extended to their compatriots, presently held in inhospitable conditions in various shelters. Since four weeks of lockdown have already passed, and this period exceeds the recommended quarantine period for Covid-19, provisions must be made for those who are not infected among this stranded population to return to their homes in specially arranged transportation, with necessary cooperation between states.
- The lockdown has severely disrupted agriculture operations and production, which in most states are now dependent on migrant labour and heavy machinery. Several instances have been reported of produce being wasted or destroyed; especially ironic given that thousands have been pushed into near starvation conditions. In view of the deep blow delivered to the economy and to labour markets by the lockdown, measures to ensure long term food security must be initiated on a priority basis.
- The Central government must abandon the top-down approach wherein it overwhelmingly controls every aspect of Covid-19 policy from testing to lockdowns – and opt for a decentralized approach where decisionmaking is largely vested with state, district and local levels. Rather than impose a ‘one size fits all’ model, the Centre should act as an enabler for local action. In fact, the feedback this would allow will only contribute towards a more effective Central response to the crisis. Full transparency in policy matters must be ensured by regularly publishing relevant information in an accessible form.
- Stringent action must be taken against public and private institutions from acting in a discriminatory manner towards any group based on religion, caste, class or gender. Fake news, sensationalism and rumour-mongering by the media designed to feed Islamophobia and give a communal tinge to a public health crisis, or to generally spread panic and fear among the public must be strictly curbed.
- The government must not take advantage of the present crisis to stifle dissent and target those who question its policies, as with the students and activists booked under the draconian UAPA Act recently.
- Stop digital surveillance and invasion of privacy in the garb of controlling Corona Virus.