On 24th March 2020, The honorable PM announced a 21-day lockdown in the entire nation. He urged people to take the government restrictions seriously for the next 21 days and remain wherever they are till 14th April 2020. He laid emphasis on the fact that in order to achieve this mammoth task, the nation has to pay a huge price economically but later gathered everyone’s confidence by assuring ‘’Jaan hai to Jahan hai”.
The PM in his address announced the govt’s package of 15,000 crore rupees that will be used to develop the health infrastructure in the country, increasing the number of beds, testing kits and the training of professionals and paramedical staff to fight the pandemic. With the rate of just about 18 people tested in a million people in the country, India currently needs labs to be prepared at a speed 50-60 times greater than the current speed. While a lot many cases are not even reported because of the poor infrastructure in the health sector, this allocation is clearly restricted. Whatever announcements or awareness we spread, until and unless tests are readily available at cheaper rates, we are not going to win this battle.
As of 25th March, only 144 laboratories have been authorized to test for the virus, 25 of them being private facilities. On 17th March, ICMR claimed that the country has just 1.5 million testing kits. The problem doesn’t just end here but what has been seen as a major drawback is the fact that a government testing laboratory is able to test only 90 samples daily, clearly indicating the poor state of technology available. On 22nd March, the ICMR chief Balram Bhargava said that India had the capacity to test 20,000 samples and even more if there is a cooperation between different authorities and agencies.
India, being a welfare state, has to cater to the needs of all the economically weaker sections of the society, especially at the time of such a crisis. On 27th March, the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a 1.7 lakh crore package for the poor. She addressed a press conference and stated that as people are not able to earn because of the lockdown, about 800 million people will be given free cereals and cooking gas apart from cash for 3 months. Apart from this, 1000 rupees will be granted to nearly 30 million poor senior citizens, widows and to the disabled. States have also been directed to release the first installment of 2000 rupees under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Yojana and make sure that they reach to the 87 million farmers. Under the package, the govt has made sure to provide 5 KG of wheat or rice and 1 KG of cereals free for the next 3 months to the beneficiaries. The 204 million women Jan Dhan account holders will also get 500 rupees per month for the next 3 months. Moreover, the entire provident fund contribution will be paid to those who earn less than 15,000 per month in companies having less than 100 workers as they fear that they might lose their jobs. The govt also made sure that it takes care of the health workers, currently the superheroes of the nation, and announced a 50 lakh rupee insurance per health worker. The daily wages under MNREGA too were increased from 182 to 202 rupees per day.
Barring this, The Reserve Bank of India also announced the biggest rate cut, lowering the repo rate to 4.40%. In order to unlock the 1.37 lakh crore primary liquidity in the banking system, it has also reduced the CRR by 100 points. The biggest relief given by the RBI was that no EMI would be deducted from the account of anyone who has a loan outstanding. EMIs will only resume after the moratorium period of 3 months gets over. On 28th March, The United States also announced a 174 million dollar package for 64 countries out of which 2.9 million dollar help will be given to India to fight the pandemic.
These are all welcoming steps but what we have lacked over the years is proper planning and implementation. At the moment, many daily wagers and laborers are willing to go back home. Both Delhi and UP governments came up with a good plan of sending these people to their home towns from Delhi to UP via buses but on 28th March, what one could witness at Anand Vihar Bus Station, East Delhi was both hazardous and petrifying. Around 15,000 people gathered there, waiting for buses, at the time of social distancing. Some have argued that because there were some Whatsapp rumors, they have rushed in there. It is not a time to fall prey to these rumors but help the government and thus ourselves in the best possible way. What happened in Anand Vihar can have serious repercussions, which the whole nation might have to pay and can be an obstacle in this fight. We need to realize that while these people have absolutely no-fault, the government also seemed clueless that a thing like this might take place. When these people have no work to do, hardly get anything to eat nowadays, they certainly feel empty staying here in Delhi and have a desire to travel back home. It is again the fallacy in regular management and planning which caused the disaster.
It is mandatory to realize our roles and responsibilities as citizens. Relief packages are beneficial as long as we are ready to cooperate. It is equally important for the government as well to take every necessary measure and ensure that test kits and labs are readily available and easily accessible to all. We are surely lagging but that nowhere proves that we can’t win. India is already responding, what we need is a stimulus from each and every citizen so that it can respond effectively.
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