The state of Maharashtra is all set for another phase of a COVID-19-induced lockdown with the state government consulting a number of people, including doctors and social activists, ahead of it. A decision is likely to be taken and 'cleared' on Wednesday, April 14, at a scheduled state cabinet meeting.
Maharashtra has highest number of patients as well as deaths due to COVID-19 in the country. On Sunday, April 11, the total number of patients found in a single day was 63,294, with 349 deaths from the virus. The total number of active patients are 5,65,587 and the recovery rate in the state is at 81.65%.
These huge numbers and the ground reality of people reaching out to laboratories overflowing with COVID-19 tests, cannot be ignored for long. The state has put a number of strict measures in place, including a weekend lockdown. However, the number of patients is not going down. As a result, on Sunday evening, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray held marathon meetings with the task force, bureaucrats and others. Newsclick spoke to number of activists in Maharashtra to know their opinion on and suggestions for the lockdown.
All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) general secretary Dr. Ajit Navale stressed on the idea that the supply chain should not be affected. "Agriculture produce must reach cities and the distribution should be easy and without confusion. Also, the government should see that this lockdown – which looks inevitable now – won't be prolonged indefinitely. With the upgradation of the healthcare system and an ample supply of medicines, a lockdown should be the minimum, if not avoidable," he said.
Ulka Mahajan, a senior social activist, said the government must take care of ration for workers before announcing a lockdown. "In the last lockdown it was seen that labourers were deprived of pulses, oil, sugar, potatoes, onions and vegetables. So, the government must ensure that all these things are available at ration shops," she demanded. She added that the transport system should function smoothly in rural areas. "The state transport corporation has mini-buses. These should run from villages to tehsils so that those who have to go to work are able to without hurdles," she said.
Uday Bhat, general secretary of the Sarva Shramik Sangha, made similar demands. "There would be two kinds of workers. The first who will lose work and be rendered jobless and then the frontline workers. The government should come up with strategies for both," he said. Uday suggested that the government should resort to cash transfers to those who end up losing work.
"House-helps, hawkers, naka kamgar and others will lose work. They should get some money to run their households. Also, front-line workers should get vaccinated without any age-related restrictions. The government should take responsibility for these labourers. If something happens to them, then their families must get financial aid for them having worked during the lockdown," he said.
Vishwas Utagi, convenor of the Jan Andolnanchi Sangharsh Samiti (JASS), said that government should not go in for a lockdown in the first place. "You can't control COVID-19 by closing doors. Instead, there should be an aggressive door-to-door vaccination drive as well as strengthening of the healthcare system," he said. "The small scale industry and labourers in those industries are already dying under financial burdens. This lockdown will add to their worries. The government should ensure see that to control the rapid spread of the virus, there are systems in place and not shut under a lockdown," he said.
Milind Ranade, a leader of sanitation workers in Mumbai, asked government for more time before announcing a lockdown. "Don't make mistakes like the Modi sarkar. Give proper time to labourers before announcing a lockdown. Also, give out masks, gloves, safety kits to people to save them from the virus. Last year, the government has announced Rs 300 per day to these workers. This money has not been given to them as yet. So, this year, the government must clear their payment from last year as well begin with this year's transfers on a weekly basis," said Ranade. "Labourers are human beings. The first thing the government and society at large should do is that they should respect them as human beings," he added.
Sushila Morale, a leader of sugarcane farmers, told Newsclick that the sudden lockdown last year created a number of issues for labourers. "This year, these labourers should get enough time in advance. Also, the government must ensure that all mills – cooperative or private – clear their bills. of labours. Last year the mills took disadvantage of their situation and kept them waiting for payment. This should not happen this time," she said. Morale also asked the state government to ensure an effective rationing system for them during the lockdown period. "Many of them don't have ration cards. But that should not be a hurdle for getting food items from ration shops. This is the only way for their survival," she said.
With the state government consulting a number of groups of people, including theatre owners, artists and industry players, trade unionists and activists must also be taken on board before a decision is arrived upon. The state labour department must listen to their demands and act to avoid a repeat of the heart-wrenching visuals from last year.