Representational image. | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
New Delhi: In the wake of social distancing or ‘Janata Curfew’ on Sunday from 7 .am to 9 p.m, there was a huge rush at grocery stores, vegetable markets, food stalls, sweets shops in several parts of Uttar Pradesh. In fact, over the past couple of days, residents have been thronging stores to stock up essential commodities fearing a lockdown. The ‘Janata Curfew’ call by the Prime Minister has aggravated this fear, driving more people to markets and stores.
Ever since the Uttar Pradesh’s capital city, Lucknow, reported four new positive cases of COVID-19, including Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor on Friday, taking the total in the state to 23, panic has gripped the entire city.
An owner of a leading grocery store at Gomti Nagar, Lucknow, said: “Residents are stocking up necessary items as nobody knows what will happen next. Our shelves are empty and products such as flour, biscuits, sugar, oil etc, are all sold out.”
A vegetable retailer in Chinhat Chauraha, Hamid Miyan, said: “Since the past two days, it has become difficult to cope with such a huge rush of customers. People are purchasing vegetables in bulk, especially potatoes, tomatoes and onions, which have the shelf value. Last night, we went home late night at around 12 p.m and today too, since morning, there has been a huge rush.”
Meanwhile, the skyrocketing prices of daily groceries due the spread of novel coronavirus and call for a 'janata curfew' or citizen-led lockdown on Sunday has put an additional burden on the families already battling high inflation rates in the country.
In UP, prices of vegetables, have already been high because of untimely rains in different parts of the state. No, these have gone up further up, thanks to the call for ‘Janata Curfew’.
Speaking on the health system in UP, Sunita Sahyog, a member of Sahyog and Health Watch Forum based in Lucknow, told NewsClick: "I have received a couple of complaints that proper screening of patients is not being done and cases are being referred to AIIMS, Delhi. You can imagine the state of Uttar Pradesh’s public health system from the fact that a person in Azamgarh landed in India a few days ago and when he complained of fever, not a single doctor was ready to take up his case, neither was any hospital in a situation to tackle such a grave situation”.
Sahyog pointed out that the poorer sections were the worst hit. “Daily wagers and rickshaw pullers are very frightened as they don't have jobs in the city. The coronavirus anxiety has gripped them badly as they don't have money to buy rations. Their only source of livelihood is drying up. How are they expected to live?”
Yogi Govt To Give Rs 1,000 To Daily Wagers
However, taking a leaf out of the Kerala government’s book (which was the first to declare a Rs 20,000 crore package to fight coronavirus), Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Saturday announced Rs 1,000 each would be given to daily wagers and free rations will be given to about 1.65 crore workers for a month.
While interacting with media in Lucknow on Saturday, Adityanath said: "There are 15 lakh daily wage labourers registered in the state, they will be given assistance of Rs 1,000. Also, 20.37 lakh labourers (rickshaw pullers, street vendors, hawkers, construction workers) will get this financial aid. In addition to this, all registered labourers will be given maintenance allowance".
However, many social activists took a jibe at the Chief Minister, saying that such statement sounded like a media gimmick, as there is no way the government has even mapped such workers. Also, the way the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has treated farmers of the state by not giving them compensation for losses due to crop damage, the daily wagers, too, may end up being left out in the cold.
Sanjay Singh, project coordinator of Vigaan Foundation, which works with daily wagers and in slum areas, said according to the Building and other Construction Workers‘ (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996, only 48 lakh daily wagers have registered themselves till January 2020. How many renewed their registration is not known, he said, adding that there was no data on this. Under this Act, only those daily wagers who work in building and construction sector are registered.
"There are rickshaw pullers, masons, cobblers, street vendors, sanitation workers. They will not get this assistance as they are not registered as daily wagers. Where will they go? Yesterday, people bought potatoes at Rs 40 per kg. How will these daily wagers and people living in the slum sustain during a lockdown?” he asked.
Farmers, Daily Wagers Leaving Lucknow
Meanwhile, fears over the coronavirus outbreak and preventive measures put in place to rein in its spread, has not just affected MNCs, malls or businesses but also the livelihoods of countless people in the unorganised sector. Daily wagers are the worst sufferers in Uttar Pradesh.
Rishi Raj, a cleaning attendant in a hotel in Agra who resides in a one-room house near Taj Mahal with his three other colleagues, packed his bag on Saturday and headed to his town in Deoria.
“My hotel owner told us that a disease is killing people in thousands. They paid us for the week and asked us to leave. There hasn’t been much business over the last few days,” Kumar said. He was worried about how he will repay the money he took from his relatives for his sister's wedding.
There are many like Kumar, across professions, who are leaving the city in droves.
"In Lucknow, you will find 35-40% daily wagers, farmers who come to the city from Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bundelkhand for their livelihood. They have all left the city ever since Prime Minister announced the 'Janata Curfew'. They left without any medical check-up. Suppose any of them has the infection, can you imagine what a disaster that would be,” said Singh.
No Rations, no Sanitation in Slum Areas
Several health activists NewsClcik spoke to expressed serious concern over the lack of sanitation and nutrition facilities for the poor who live in slum areas, especially in case of an impending lockdown. At a time when other states, such as Kerala and West Bengal, are providing financial assistance and distributing rations on the doorstep of the poor, the Yogi government is busy making hollow promises, they said.
"We work in slum areas, especially on the health aspect. Ever since the coronavirus outbreak, we are continuously visiting slum areas and meeting people. There is no assistance that the government has provided as of now. Neither has any ration or financial assistance been given. In this condition, when middle-class people are buying potato at Rs 40/kg, how will the slum people sustain themselves," said a health activist.
Several activists also alleged that facilities for tests and screening were only available in King George's Medical College, Lucknow, asking, where will village people rush to if the situation becomes grave.