The government on 26 March 2020 announced a comprehensive stimulus package of Rs 1.7lakh crore for daily wagers and those below poverty line
Dr Chandni Sengupta
The existence of human Coronavirus was first discovered in the 1960s. Since 2003, five different types of Coronaviruses have been identified. The SARS-CoV appeared in China at the end of February 2003 and within a few months spread to other parts of the world. The SARS-CoV-2 or what is popularly known as Covid-19 made its debut in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei province of China in December 2019. The World Health Organization declared it to be a pandemic on 11 March 2020 as thousands of cases of Covid-19 from across the world came to light.
As the world was taken over by the virus and thousands of casualties began to be reported globally, India began taking steps to mitigate the spread of the deadly Chinese virus. As an initial measure, thermal testing was started at all international airports. The government soon realized the magnitude of the threat and began to work on a more comprehensive strategy. As the number of cases soared, educational institutions, private offices and many other establishments were closed down. With medical experts insisting on the need for social distancing, the Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi sprung into action. The Janta Curfew: innovation is the key
The Janta Curfew was announced on 19 March 2020 by the Prime Minister as an effort to combat the spread of Coronavirus in the country. The Janta Curfew was to be observed on Sunday, 22 March 2020. This was an initial attempt to flatten the curve of the spread of the virus and bring down the rate of transmission. The Prime Minister also urged the citizens to laud the efforts of the medical practitioners and all other groups who are working tirelessly in this hour of crisis to provide essential services to those in need. The Prime Minister’s message was loud and clear—“Stay Home, Stay Safe.” It came at a time when the countrymen needed to hear words of reassurance. Everyone except medical practitioners, police, media, and home delivery professionals was to observe the Janta Curfew and confine themselves to their homes.
There was a complete lockdown in all parts of the country from 7am to 9pm. The Indian Railways declared that it would cancel 3700 trains in support of the Janta Curfew. Many airlines also announced a partial reduction or a complete shutdown of their services. GoAir voluntarily suspended all flights scheduled for 22 March 2020. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation suspended its services for a day to observe the Janta Curfew. On 22 March 2020 as the clock struck 5, the entire nation came together with the banging of plates, ringing of bells, and claps in gratitude for health professionals and other workers at the frontline.
As far as gauging the impact of the Janta Curfew is concerned, a few instances of its observance may be cited here. From the north to the south, all major cities observed the curfew. * Delhi NCR: The Delhi Auto Union supported the call for Janta Curfew and withdrew its services in the city. Parts of NCR, including Noida and Gurugram also wore a deserted look on 22 March 2020. Major traffic points in Delhi NCR were devoid of any vehicles and this determined the success of the Janta Curfew in the Delhi NCR region. * Maharashtra: People of Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, displayed immense resilience by staying indoors. In Nagpur, all private and corporate establishments were completely shut. * Tamil Nadu: In Chennai, some vehicular movement was observed but public and private bus services, autos and taxis remained off the roads in most parts of the state.
* West Bengal: Calcutta was also deserted. There was less traffic on the streets. Bus services were not suspended in Kolkata but buses and trams that were being run were largely empty. According to reports, a few fish markets were also open and did brisk business on that day as everything else was closed. Some experts called the Janta Curfew a “symbolic move” and claimed that the 14-hour lockdown was not expected to bring down the transmission of the disease. Despite the pessimistic approach of some experts who claimed that this measure adopted by the Modi government was not “enough”, the citizens of India responded favourably to the Prime Minister’s call for Janta Curfew and barring a few instances, the curfew was by and large observed in its entirety. A study conducted by the Amity Centre for Air Pollution Control to determine the effects of the Janta Curfew revealed that the air pollution level in Delhi NCR region saw a drastic reduction of up to 50 per cent on 22 March 2020. Therefore, the Janta Curfew, inadvertently, also led to clearer skies and less particulate matter in the air. Twenty One-Day Lockdown: a need of the hour In an unprecedented move, the Prime Minister of India addressed the nation for the second time within a span of seven days on 24 March 2020. As the famous French statesman and military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte had said, “To extraordinary circumstance, we must apply extraordinary remedies” and so in this hour of crisis, it was incumbent on the government to take some unprecedented measures. The Prime Minister in his message to the nation announced a 21-day lockdown, which was to be observed by everyone except those engaged in providing essential services. The complete lockdown, which was made effective from midnight, was an attempt to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. Some critics of the government came down heavily on the lockdown and raised concerns of the effectiveness of this measure. Raghuram Rajan, a known critic of the Modi establishment, said that “This is a very serious concern because not only does the lockdown keep people from going to work, it keeps them at home which is not necessarily that pristine isolated place, but can also be a slum where people live together.” Rajan, however, failed to suggest alternatives for keeping the spreads of Covid-19 at bay. Doctors and experts have repeatedly focused on the need to practice social distancing and the lockdown is perhaps the only way in which distancing can become successful. Some critics also showed concerns about the condition of the daily wage earners and those living below poverty line. To alleviate their concerns, the government on 26 March 2020 announced a comprehensive stimulus package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore. Some major steps taken by the Modi government as part of this package are: * A medical insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh for per person for workers including nurses, paramedics and sanitation staff * 80 crore ration card holders under the Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana to be given 5 kg wheat/rice per person for the next three months and 1 kg of pulse per household * Women Jan Dhan account holders to be given an ex-gratia amount of Rs 500 for the next three months * The beneficiaries of the Ujjwala Gas Scheme to be given free gas cylinders for the next three months * The daily wage under of labourers under the MNREGA has been increased to Rs 202 per day as against Rs 182 * The limit of collateral-free loans to 63 lakh women self-held groups will be increased to Rs 20 lakh * Farmers who are given benefit of Rs. 6000 under the PM-Kisan Scheme to be given Rs 2,000 as the first installment * An amount of Rs 1,000 to be given to widows, poor widows, divyang, and senior citizens for the next three months * Government to pay EPF contribution to establishments which have upto 100 employees for the next three months * Welfare Fund of Rs 31,000 crore for construction workers * District Mineral Fund to be utilized for mineral workers The announcement by the Finance Minister during these times of distress came as a ray of hope for those who would be affected by the lockdown, the daily wake workers, the poor farmers and all those who fall under the BPL category. This exceptional stand by the Modi government has raised the hope for millions who were under great pressure ever since the lockdown was announced. With UK and Australia announcing a complete lockdown for the next six months to tackle the Covid-19 menace, it seems that the lockdown strategy of Prime Minister Modi is the most tried and tested formula.
(Author is Assistant Professor, Amity School of Liberal Arts, Amity University Haryana)