What the Centre’s lockdown plan has overlooked

Milindo Chakrabarti | Updated on April 14, 2020 Published on April 14, 2020

There should have been a better balance between enforcing the lockdown and freeing up livelihood-sustaining activities

Lockdown has been extended as expected. Some guidelines would be issued soon to identify the scope for graded relaxations that would be initiated from April 20. While lockdown takes care of efforts to reduce threats of transmission of the Covid-19 virus, about which not much is known yet, acceptance of the need for relaxation signifies the concerns among powers that be that the issues related to livelihood security cannot be ignored either.

The present dispensation has been constantly geared to contain the spread of infections. The parameters to be considered for relaxation — locating the hotspots — revolve solely around the number of infected persons or the growth in transmission of infection in recent times in a given locality. A change in their values beyond a certain threshold would attract reversal of the status of relaxation.

It’s beyond doubt that the government is mulling a dynamic carrot-and-stick policy to contain the possibility of community transmission. The objectives are to provide incentives to a collective of communities for following the norms of “social distancing” and punish otherwise. The dynamic nature of the policy would also provide opportunities to a collective to pull up their socks and be subsequently rewarded while any leniency would bring in a subsequent loss of freedom granted to them earlier.

The realisation that partial freedom is to be granted is definitely in sync with the felt need to support livelihood generation for those who are badly in need to sustain themselves. The loss in livelihood opportunities as a result of the lockdown has pushed many of our fellow citizens to utter distress and penury. It is clear from the available evidences so far that the “charity” model of supporting the vulnerable sections has not been effective to the desirable extent.

Many are going hungry, some making their restlessness visible as well, in spite of serious and honest attempts by the state and the union governments. Many new schemes have been announced, with scopes of many expanded. The prevailing logistic mechanisms are found wanting in converting the intentions into achievements. The strategy for graded relaxation cannot completely overlook this genuine concern. Those vulnerable are to be simultaneously facilitated to be capable of earning their livelihoods, even if in a partial manner.

Engaging those out of employment

Here is a wish list that may be considered by the policymakers.

The process of zoning the country should not only consider the risk profile of the localities but also take account of the share of population that are facing severe threat to their day-to-day sustenance. The localities with relatively larger share of such population may be identified and those willing may be engaged in some activities commensurate to their respective skill sets.

Many of them can be engaged in providing Covid-related services like supplying essentials to the locked down families, preparing and delivering cooked food to those in need, among others. The strategy so far has been to engage public officials in delivering the required services. Given the already existing shortage in manpower among the public officials in delivering the services on demand, they are hard pressed to assume this added responsibility in an effective manner. Those freed from lockdown may be engaged in shouldering some of their burdens.

Such engagements are to be backed by a strict screening protocol to be religiously followed both before these new soldiers actively joining the war against Covid leave and come back to their residences. They need to be supplied with reasonable basket of protective gears to not only save them from potential infections but also to ensure that they do not add to the spread the virus, if unfortunately infected. As per the existing protocol advised by ICMR, it would involve supply of home-made masks, disposable gloves, sanitisers and soaps for regular washing of hands, while on duty. The existing insurance schemes made available to the frontline soldiers who are engaged in the war against the coronavirus may also be extended to these new groups of soldiers.

Their services may be mobilised to serve communities under lockdown — complete and partial. The number of vulnerable individuals will also reduce considerably, now being confined only to economically vulnerable communities residing in regions under complete containment. They only would have to be provided with the sustenance support by the State while the rest can earn their livelihoods and proudly contribute to nation’s war against the deadly virus.

Those to be engaged with such exercise will be deployed within the limits of the administrative jurisdictions of their respective village panchayats or urban local bodies so that their movements and activities can be continuously observed. Extended mobility to a contiguous region may be considered if that is also covered under the norms of relaxed lockdown. Proper coordination between the people’s representatives from the respective local self-governments is a necessary pre-condition to introduce the opportunity for extended mobility.

Engage the SHGs

As per the latest data made available by NABARD, there are more than one crore self-help groups promoted by the Indian banking sector. Most of them — around 80 lakhs — are managed by women. They are already experienced to carry out economic activities in collectives and have proven their capabilities as evidenced from high propensity of loan refund.

This is an opportunity to use their expertise in keeping the local economies on the move. Members of the SHGs may well be given special passes to be operative irrespective of whether they belong to the zones under restriction. Standard screening and preventive measures would apply to facilitate their movements. Let the women empower the nation in distress.

The writer is Professor, OP Jindal Global University, and Visiting Fellow, Research and Information System for Developing Countries. Views are personal

Published on April 14, 2020

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