By -Sanjenbam Sadananda Singh, IRS
Chaoba is a diesel auto driver, but due to lockdown, he is not able to earn money to make both ends meet. His children are not able to go to school as their school is closed. His son Tomchou, eldest of the four children is in the 10th standard. He is also not able to pay his school fees on time, even though there have been appeals to school authorities for relief. His wife, Thambal is expecting their 5th child but she is not able to go the hospital for a scheduled check-up. There are thousands of Chaoba or Tomchou or Thambal in Manipur, let alone in the whole country or the world.
As we have heard and seen in the news, TV, social media, the global pandemic COVID19 is a very contagious virus. In laymen term, it is called pandemic because it has endangered the health and wellbeing of multiple countries of the world. Super power and developed countries like USA, Italy, Spain, France, UK etc. are all affected by this pandemic. Altogether, more than 170 countries are affected by COVID19.
This extended lock down period is to be treated as the final lockdown for various reasons. Further extension could further jeopardise the health both mental and physical, education, economy, could stretch administration, health professionals and other frontline warriors to the limits. It could throw thousands of people in the brink of acute poverty, job loss, frustration, domestic violence, and even public riots for want of resources. More importantly, it could further spread the virus onto uncharted nook and corners of the state, if left to the luck and lockdown alone.
Further, people are facing twin issues of survival from huger and risk of contracting the virus. The immediate concern being the hunger. When a hungry child cries for food, no parents would tolerate to see such scene. This is true for both rich and poor families though this lockdown hurt the poor and vulnerable sections of the society the most. This is the problem of the consumer sections of the population.
Thirdly, the seed sowing season is approaching. Huge farmer population of the state are facing twin problems. The harvested products should reach the consumers especially the Imphal areas and the new seeds should be sown after preparing the fields. The necessary seeds, fertilizers and other requirements are like the oxygen to the farmers. Failure of this sector of the economy would adversely impact most of the people of the state. This is true in the case of allied sectors such as poultry farming.
Fourthly, the patients with ailments who need critical medicines on time. They need timely intervention. Without special arrangement of medicine and medical attention, they would suffer anyway with or without the virus. Various such crucial appointments stand cancelled due to the virus compounding the problems.
Fifthly, challenges faced by the students for timely completion of syllabus. Those students who are going to appear for Matric and 10 plus 2 exam next year are at higher risk of missing crucial part of their education. The private school teachers and guardians are facing a dilemma. The guardians need relief from school fees while the teachers need salary from schools.
Last but not the least, those people who are stranded outside the state. Apart from the virus, racial discrimination is also another issue where there were many instances in various parts of the country. The provision of food and other essential items are also a big headache.
These are testing times which require a team work of the government, administration, citizens, local clubs, various NGOs and local meira paibis. Instead of reaction when someone in the state is tested positive as has been seen, including unwanted communal cross fire in the social media, this is the time for a collective fight to defeat the virus. This is not normal time but the basic necessities should be prioritized along with the total war against the virus.
At the time writing this, the total number of confirmed cases in the country has crossed 12,000 and two million cases worldwide. As per the latest news, Manipur is classified in the Green Zone as the state has only two confirmed cases of which one has recovered. Thus, the next few days of extended lockdown is crucial to contain the virus with an effort at all levels, amid the planned gradual reopening of the lockdown. How prepared the state is in case of a new case remains a moot question.
Some notable solutions come to my mind. The FCI and local administration through local clubs can procure the foods and vegetable produce from the farms (in case of import too) and store and then sell it at designated places at specified places with a fixed price control mechanism. Here social distancing and quantity control can be done. People should be assured that their basic necessities are taken care of by the government even in the form of the credit system through PAN card or Aadhar card basis. The medicine supply should continue and online delivery of medicines can also be made. Proper stock of required medicines can be ascertained from medical and pharmaceutical associations.
During this extended lockdown, proper tracing, isolation and testing can be done. Mass testing should be preferred. Enough stock of PPEs and quarantine facilities should be made ready. The next 28 days should be free of the new case in order to declare a state free from the virus. In case of Manipur, this 28 days period is far from over. So, we cannot be complacent now.
What should be done for those stranded outside the state? It is not advisable to arrange a special flight to charter them home. However, they should be taken care of by cooperating with the concerned state government. For example, Delhi government should be asked to help the Manipuris living there. Student organisation or NGO can be collaborated by both governments to arrange the basic requirements for the stranded people. Delhi police North East Cell can take an active role to address any distress call. On the same line, stranded labourers should be helped by the Manipur government. Apart from basic transportation, movement of people coming to Manipur or going out should be controlled effectively.
The virus would be eventually overcome but by then how much damaged has been done is up to us to say the least. This pandemic could teach us many lessons. We could become less greedy, be caring of the environment, no spitting in public, helping each other especially among various communities, less consumerism, importance of small things, appreciating the farmers and other front line Covid19 warriors. Stay home, stay safe and we care, so we share.
******** The Writer Sanjenbam Sadananda Singh, IRS is currently posted as Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax, Kolkata.