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Govt should help those stranded get home

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By RAJIVE SINGH

The swift 21 day nationwide lockdown to fight the corona virus pandemic ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a harsh but correct decision under the unprecedented medical emergency that the world is facing today.

However, with states sealing their borders as a consequence and police simply having no clue as to how to help, this has left many people stranded at various places away from their homes for no fault of theirs. As Uttarakhand Chief Minister has admitted, there are hundreds of Uttarakhandis in Delhi unable to cross over to UP on their way back home, with no transport available. This is just a miniscule number, the exact figures of all those marooned at different places is expected to be in lakhs if the entire country is considered.

Hopefully, the central and state governments will take quick steps to ensure that all those who are stuck at different places reach their destinations safely and quickly.

When Prime Minister Modi addressed the nation on 19 March requesting people to observe a fourteen hour voluntary “Janata Curfew” on Sunday, 22 March, no one had any inkling that lockdown would be announced suddenly two days later, trains and flights cancelled, public transport suspended, state borders sealed, leaving a large number of people stuck away from homes. The stranded include those who were touring the country or out on official work; as well as migrant labourers who want to return home since they suddenly find themselves suddenly unemployed as all activities have come to a standstill.

On a personal level, as a current resident of Greater Noida, I found the local police having no clue on how to help me in obtaining a curfew pass to enter Delhi on 24 March to fetch my daughter from the airport, the borders having been sealed and curfew imposed suddenly by the Delhi Government; forcing me to ask her to cancel her flight and return to her place from the airport in Mumbai since she was to arrive late at night.

Also, since the lockdown from midnight was announced by the Prime Minister at 8 p.m., people thronged to provision shops in large numbers and panic buying of groceries was witnessed across the country, which defeated the very purpose of keeping people isolated. While the efficient manner in which government stood by and evacuated Indian nationals stranded in China and Iran deserves all praise, the handling of the situation within the country has been shoddy. Could the situation have been better handled? After all, this was no demonetisation where the surprise element was necessary to corner black money. The first corona virus positive case was detected on 30 January in India, ten days after USA, a day earlier than Italy and Spain and three weeks earlier than Iran, all worse affected than us till now. Moreover, India was declared a “high risk” country even before the first patient was identified. With WHO closely monitoring the situation outside China and providing useful inputs, it was clear that the pandemic was growing exponentially with the situation getting out of hand by roughly the fourth week after the first case was discovered. Further, with no prescribed medication available and social distancing the only effective means to contain the spread of virus, it was clear that a complete shutdown was forthcoming.

Our government should have drawn lessons from the position in Italy, Iran and Spain and the Prime Minister should have informed the nation of the gravity of the situation in the first week of March, itself, when the first cases in Delhi and Hyderabad were detected, and advised people to avoid non- essential travel within the country, too. Citizens should also have been warned that, if the spread of virus could not be controlled, complete lockdown or curfew would need to be enforced.

The Prime Minister’s second address to the nation should have come on 17 March when Italy and Spain declared lockdowns after both these countries had the situation completely out of their hands, while India was still in a relatively better position; declaring that we too would have a similar lockdown in a few days; while on 19 March complete shutdown from 22 March should have been announced.

This would have allowed people away from their homes sufficient time and opportunity to get back to their abodes as well as buy provisions. It is hoped that positive lessons are drawn from the present shortcomings so that the government is better prepared for the next crisis and that the cure for coronavirus is also found soon.