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Mini Lockdown again Threatens Vulnerable Sections in Maharashtra

To prevent the spread of coronavirus, the state government has come up with restrictions on public life. But these restrictions are hurting the weakest section the most.
Maha Mini lockdown

Nathibai Zinjad travels from Aatgaon in Thane to Kalyan every morning with a basket full of flowers and leaves. She used to sit with her basket of flowers near the railway station in Kalyan West. But since Tuesday April 6, the police are not allowing her to sell there. Nathibai's only way of income has been stopped by the 'break the chain' (a name given by the Maharashtra government for a string of new regulations to prevent public activities) mission.

"When will this corona go? Police told us to not sit, or else, they will seize the flowers. Why don't they give us roti and sabji if they are not allowing us to do business?," Nathibai asked. She could sell flowers of only Rs 150 in the last two days. "Last year there was this lockdown. If it comes again, our business will be gone. Our only livelihood will be gone," she said.

Maharashtra is having the highest number of patients in the state, crossing 30 lakh in total. The active number of patients on April 8 were more than 4 lakh, whereas, the death toll has crossed 55 thousands. The state's hospitals are more than 70% full, as per the health ministry data. In this backdrop, the state has come up with regulations to control the spread. The government has asked to shut down all shops except essential ones. Also, hotels are allowed to run only takeaway services. There will be complete lockdown from Friday 8 pm to Monday 8 am, as per the state's guidelines.

As businesses are already crumbling and people are facing severe financial issues, this order of mini-lockdown is being protested widely. The shopkeepers’ associations have hit the streets across state. The principal opposition party BJP is actively in the protest. Looking at the anger, the state government has asked for two days to come up with new guidelines.

However, in this tough times, the most neglected is the financially weakest section of the society. The hawkers, the daily wagers, the labourers, the auto drivers, the small vegetable and food vendors, and the smaller shopkeepers are the ones who are facing the heat again this summer.

Vasanti Magdum sells vegetables in Dadar East. This part of central Mumbai is witnessing a rapid rise of Covid-19 patients. As new rules comes to place on Tuesday, Vasanti was asked by the police to not open her stall. She comes at the market but do not go to sell. "Everyone is saying this time corona is more serious. So, there could be stricter lockdown than this. Is that true?," she asked NewsClick. "I have two children. My husband works as a taxi driver. His taxi is also not earning like earlier days. How will we feed ourselves if this continues?" she asked.

According to the hawkers’ association, there are 2.5 lakh registered hawkers in Mumbai. "The number has also increased since last lockdown as many lost their jobs and started doing some roadside work. So, the number is bigger. These people will be worst hit if these restrictions continues," said leader of Hawkers Association, Shankar Salavi.

With Covid cases rising the housing societies have again stopped giving entry to housemaids, small-time vendors, laundrymen and so on.

Aslam Kureshi, who has his own laundry in Dindoshi's Santosh Nagar area, goes to more than 40 societies to collect clothes for ironing. But more than 60% societies have now stopped giving entries to others. Aslam has three boys to help him in iron work. "I pay them on a monthly basis. If this situation continues, then I won't be able to pay them next month. What can one do? I can't go to societies and tell people. Because everyone is worried. We too are worried of corona," he said.

In a research report recently published on last year's lockdown, it is clearly mentioned that the weaker section has faced huge losses during the time. "The urban poor, migrated labours, small time vendors and other similar sections are facing the tremendous losses due to lockdown. The state government needs to give special attention to help them with welfare schemes for food, financial assistance, help in terms of health, education for children etc. The lockdown has been mostly cruel to them," said the report jointly done by Unique Foundation and Pune University.

There have been demands of giving financial assistance to this weakest section. Former Chief Minister and Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan has written to CM Uddhav Thackeray regarding transferring the monetary help directly to the accounts of people before taking decision of lockdown. As the experience of last lockdown suggests, various organisations have asked the state government to include all the people with middle and lower income group into rationing system. Shiv Bhojan, a scheme of food for people in Rs 5, is there. It is being demanded to increase the centres of Shiv Bhojan. As of now, no new decision has been taken on these things, apart from continuing the older decisions of welfare.

The Jan Andolananchi Sangharsh Samiti (JASS) has given a memorandum to the state government regarding the demands for the weaker sections. But the state has not replied yet. "The government seems to not have consulted and considered the situation of weaker, poor people while coming up with new regulations. Even after three days, the government is not addressing the issues of financial and other losses of these people. It is indirectly forcing us to plan for protests. The organisations are taking a stand to co-operate with the government during pandemic times. But, the government is not considering our demands," said Ulka Mahajan, senior activist and active member of JASS.

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