By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
The Karnataka Government has announced the extension of the ongoing, nearly month-long lockdown for a further two weeks. Yes, it is the same kind of lockdown in every way that we have been having over the last four weeks. This suggests that no one in the Government think tanks have really applied their minds, over the past one month, on how to make lockdowns effective in controlling the pandemic while at the same time controlling to some extant the joblessness and consequent hunger of those standing without work or wages in the large unorganised sector which constitutes almost half our population.
The Government has announced very loudly that a fairly huge relief package of Rs. 1,250 crore would be credited directly to the bank accounts of the same old beneficiaries of Government generosity, based on the same data of last year’s applicants. It does not say anything about what happens to all those who are just as miserable but have for some reason failed to apply for relief last year. And it has also not taken into consideration the plight of the many who have become eminently qualified to be called miserable over the past one year!
Relief is welcome and, in our country, it certainly makes every one of the recipients very happy but beyond giving that momentary happiness it cannot do much in the long run. What the man on the street needs today is an opportunity to move his hands and legs and earn his daily bread with regularity, day after day. And, that is exactly what our country needs too, to be called a nation of hard-working people which can make it stand out in the eyes of the world.
Although it needs to be extended by a couple of hours because it is causing unsafe overcrowding at shops, the daily morning four-hour relaxation of the lockdown is no doubt helping people to buy their daily requirements of provisions and it is consequently helping all those who sell these items too, to make a living.
But here I am speaking about the plight of the daily wage earners who have no work and no income now. The month that has gone by without any earnings and the time it takes for the relief amount to reach their bank accounts will certainly add up to a very long time. And, when you are hungry and desperate for a meal this wait is going to be unusually and needlessly painful. I use the word needlessly because it really is a needless torture and it could have been avoided if only the Government had thought of making carefully planned changes in the provisions of our lockdown every time it was extended.
Now, with all other businesses classified as ‘non-essential’ remaining completely closed down, the cobbler, the carpenter, the electrician, the plumber, the painter, the mason, and the mechanic are all without jobs. Only by opening all the other businesses, at least for a limited time every day and allowing them to go about their jobs, in small teams, with due precautions, we could have given them a chance to procure their work materials and go about their jobs, earning their daily bread with dignity and a sense of pride instead of standing at their doorsteps wringing their hands in despair. And, things at home like refrigerators, deep freezers, ovens, lights, fans, water pumps, washing machines, cars and two-wheelers do need regular maintenance.
Now with no access to spare parts all those who are in the business of repairing them are jobless. My own washing machine has conked out at the wrong time and although I know a man across the street who can set it right, he is unable to get a small spare part to do it. My car is in need of a new battery for the past one month and there is simply no place where I can buy one from.
While a man like me can sit at home and wait for his car to come back to life, think of the plight of those self-employed owners of mini-trucks and luggage autos and the home delivery boys also who are rendered completely jobless simply because they cannot find a mechanic to fix the faults with their wage-earning workhorses.
Our Government in a statement yesterday has said that the already month-long lockdown is being extended for two more weeks on the advice of its team of experts. The question I would like to ask here is why the ‘experts’ who have advised our Government to go ahead with the same kind of insensitive lockdown did not think of the many flaws in its provisions?
Yes, we do need some kind of regimentation to control the raging pandemic on a war-footing because what we are fighting is indeed a war of the worst kind. It was only because of our complacence that we lost the battle with the first wave of the pandemic. But our war should be guided by some common sense if not uncommon intelligence.
So, all the restrictions on eating out, celebrating weddings, going to movies and congregating for all other reasons, will certainly help and they are essential for some more time. And, our civic authorities and the Police personnel particularly are doing a great job of enforcing all the provisions of our lockdown.
But all daily wage earners need to be given a supervised chance to earn their livelihood. So instead of blindly doling out relief to all those who apply for it, we can differentiate between who should be given a chance to earn their livelihood and the most helpless who need some monetary help. That way we can save a good lot of our taxpayer’s money from just going down the drain and put it to much better use, like creating some much-needed medical facilities for all those who are now desperately rushing from hospital to hospital in search of a bed for their loved ones. That way the Government will be doing some real rather than symbolic good to all those who need it most at a very difficult time. Do think about it!
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