The so-called Lockdown 4.0 ended and Lockdown 5.0 began on June 1, 2020. There appears to be a slow return to `normalcy’, while the people are none the wiser as to why there were so many lockdowns in the first place and what has been achieved. It is not as if the Covid-19 disease has been contained or defeated in any sense of the word.
In the period between the middle of March 2020 and the present, the country has seen a catastrophic phase of near complete shutdown of the economy, with enterprises small and large suffering, and the economy coming to a near halt. The lockdown was announced with a 4 hour notice by the Prime Minister on March 24, 2020.
All observers of the disease and the policies of the Government agree that the lockdown has been a disaster. It was meant to account for the fact that India has an overloaded health-care system and a dramatic rise in the number of cases would have overwhelmed it.
The initial lockdowns were accompanied with virtual cordoning off of neighbourhoods, with security forces deployed to prevent people from leaving. At other times, there would be rumours saying that some trains would be departing, causing stampede like conditions. Elsewhere, as in Dharavi the lockdown conditions were forcing millions of people to be crowded in atrocious conditions which actually enabled the spread of the virus, turning Mumbai into a hot-spot. Even as the policies of the Government came under the spotlight a whole media scare was created around the meeting of the Tablighi Jamaat that took place in Delhi around the middle of March, where delegates from foreign countries were present. There was an attempt to blame Muslims who are the usual scapegoat for anything that would go wrong in the country.
As the economic conditions began to worsen for those at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, millions of `migrants’ who come from the states of UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal found themselves with no money for food or rent, and decided they would have to leave the cities where they were working. Left with no option many decided to walk over a 1000 km in the scalding summer heat which has set in. Others were walking along railway tracks which were probably the shortest route and perished. Yet others who got into some buses and trucks died in traffic accidents. Many have perished due to heat stroke, starvation and dehydration.
The utter callousness of the Government towards the plight of these unfortunate persons is there for everyone to see. Even in the midst of this, the Government shows no sign of actually taking care of these unfortunate persons and is continuing its self-glorification, including, e.g., the plans for the Central Vista in Delhi pegged at 20,000 crores.
There is much talk about the need and development of vaccines and the need to conduct clinical trials and make them available for the world market. In the coming weeks and months, one will hear the need for `herd immunity’ to take hold of the population, also facilitated by the availability of vaccines. Should someone be unfortunate enough to contract the virus and go into a serious condition, there will be no option but to go to dedicated private hospitals and pay through the nose for treatment and hope for the best. There is little by way of the actions of the Government that actually inspires any confidence. The experience shows that there is little value attached to human life in the country.
All the above said, it may be concluded that the experience with the Covid crisis has been a terrible trauma. It has been and is a time when the hardship borne by the people of India has been terrible and will likely increase many-fold. Nevertheless, the lessons that must be learnt from this episode is that the situation in India is teetering on the brink of collapse and the preparedness for this pandemic as well as future crises in the health and social sectors is dismal. We must all learn from the disaster that has occurred and demand that the people of India deserve a better deal. We must demand that a large share of public spending should be on public health and infra-structure. We must demand a responsible Disaster Management Policy. We must demand that those in power are responsible for their actions and do not willy-nilly throw the people to the winds. It is a time when we must all put our heads together and ask what is what and find a way forward so that there is a future for everyone.