The spectre of food riots, starvation and an acute law and order breakdown looms large, as an underprepared nation tries to grapple with the enormous threat posed by the coronavirus, unless the bureaucracy puts its act together, ensuring the smooth implementation of the government’s ambitious plans.
Senior officials, in particular, need to round the clock, make themselves available and must sensitize their subordinates on how to accomplish this colossal task. An overstretched police force is expected to perform functions it is not very well-conversant with, as a consequence of which, ordinary citizens are being mistreated, to the point of being thrashed.
Delhi and its adjoining areas, like the rest of the country, have morphed into ghost towns with a complete enforced lockdown. However, the issue that has not been addressed is the plight of the homeless, destitute and daily-wagers who constitute the majority of our people. A curfew has been clamped down on the capital, yet, over the past few days, a large number of migrants can be seen walking towards bus terminals and railway stations, in order to make it back to their respective villages. However, their plight is most unfortunate, since all passenger trains and interstate bus services stand suspended, with no food available on the roadside.
The least the government could have done was to provide them with one meal a day. There are multiple places where arrangements have been made but they are inadequate to deal with a large number of affected people. In fact, gurudwaras appear to be better organised, with the impoverished having a place to fall back on.
The real fear is that there may be far more displaced or unemployed citizens when the shutdown ends, rather than the plethora of people dying in a country with a population of 130 crore.
The reason for laying concentrated emphasis on the bureaucracy is that the majority of them are trained to issue orders and directives, which appear picture-perfect on paper, but in reality are designed to absolve them of any future responsibility when things go askew. In the current scenario as well, the foresight and readiness is absent, and rules have been framed without taking into account the hardships endured. For instance, curfew-passes are being issued at places where it is impossible to travel to, in view of the massive restrictions and due to public transport being skeletal. For those who need passes for genuine causes, arrangements should have ideally been made at the police station level, which are more accessible as compared to far-flung locales, where there is little guarantee that grievances would be looked into.
Those in authority continue to remain oblivious of how the supplies of essential commodities have been disrupted. The supply-chain stands broken, because many of those involved in manning trucks and other vehicles, are finding it an uphill task to make it to places, on account of the restrictions imposed by the police. The result being: many essential goods are out of stock, following a spree of panic buying prior to the enforcement of the three-week lockdown. Many of the employees of private clinics, grocery stores, chemist outlets, and those services covered in the exempted categories, cannot reach their places of work since they are not in possession of government approved identity cards, and thus find it impossible to persuade the police personnel that barricade them.
These issues are being amplified since they should have been factored-in much before the curfew restrictions were clamped. It is evident, that senior bureaucrats must have assured the political bosses that all was well, and there would be no hurdle in executing the plan. The primary problem is, that in such a crisis, it would have been prudent for the officers to recognise that we are not a developed country where systems are intact, but an underdeveloped society, heaving to tread towards development. Therefore, the parameters cannot be replicated.
The situation reminds me of my Delhi University days, when while pursuing my Masters in Political Science, I was outraged that in some papers, the prescribed syllabus could not be covered beyond one-fourth, due to the unavailability of the requisite books. The syllabus was at par with the Berkeley University curriculum, and it was obviously included to enable professors to go on exchange-programs, rather than keeping in mind the academic requirements of the students. A similar mindset speaks in schemes devised by the bureaucracy, which believes that steps taken in the West are absolutely applicable here, without acknowledging the meagre resources at our disposal. This is where intellectual honesty is lacking, hindering the application of any steps.
The administration should have the power to anticipate the fallout of this huge clampdown. Nothing constructive can come into existence if the welfare of the downtrodden and marginalized is sidelined. Critics of the government are stating that the shuttering down was imperative since the Swachh Bharat campaign did not succeed. This is no time to score political brownie-points, but strive towards a goal with a fixity of purpose, ensuring the safety and security of one and all.
The situation needs to be continuously monitored and the political leadership must ensure that the bureaucracy does not further let the country down. It is a mammoth challenge, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leading from the front; therefore, lapses would have zero-tolerance. The downside of this ongoing plight is bound to have hefty economic ramifications. The consequences are grim, and thus have to be faced head-on. Between us.