Last year a nationwide lockdown was suddenly imposed with barely four hours notice, the lockdown this year is a lot different.
For one, the Maharashtra government seems to be more in control. Maharashtra consulted with several stakeholders before imposing the lockdown and considered their views before imposing restrictions.
There have been no sudden announcements this year. In fact, before introducing a fresh round of restrictions, there are enough hints thrown in from the government to prevent panic in the people.
Though the complete day lockdown was introduced only from April 21, 2021, the state’s health minister Rajesh Tope kept referring to it for almost four days prior to it.
Also, the state government did keep migrants in mind when framing policy. Migrants like Anwar Hussain continue to stay in Mumbai during this lockdown. “Last year, I was desperate to return back home to West Bengal. Since, I have now found work at a construction site, there is no disruption of my work despite the lockdown and I also don’t have to worry about where to stay, ” says Hussain. Like many migrants, Hussain has very few work options in his native town in Murshidabad and is heavily dependent on work in Mumbai to meet the needs of his family.
Relief packages announced
The state announced a Rs 3300 crore relief package for the seven lakh residents of Maharashtra in the form of three kilos of wheat and two kilos of rice free of charge for the poor, the real clincher for daily wagers like Husain in Mumbai is the availability of work here.
About seven lakh registered auto rickshaw owners too are being offered a Rs 107 crore relief package to cope with the lockdown. The beneficiaries of various schemes like widows, senior citizens, handicapped etc who will be given Rs 1000 per month for two months.
Apart from construction sites, many other allied industries like Information Technology, data centers, Customs, Ports and even private security services have been allowed to stay open.
Mumbai’s lifeline- the Mumbai suburban local trains that carry about 80 lakh passengers in non-pandemic times, have been allowed to ply. Metro, Monorail and public buses had not been halted due to the lockdown.
Resistance to lockdown
Last year, we witnessed people desperately returning to their villages on trucks, bicycles or even by walk. “Back then, we were helpless without vaccines or medicines,” said Former Mumbai Congress president and member of Parliament Sanjay Nirupam. “Last year people accepted lockdown but this year they are in a rebellious mood and are revolting against lockdown. Thanks to vaccination and better awareness about Covid and it’s medications, now there is lesser fear about Covid. With the result that people now want to focus more on economic issues.”
Roadside snack vendors and street hawkers were allowed to function during the partial lockdown announced on April 4, 2021, as were shops of opticians and of course the fruits and vegetable vendors.
The fact that e-commerce services were allowed to continue deliveries unhindered has riled many in the traditional traders, who are demanding a level playing field. “People also need non-food items such as clothing, hardware, electricals, kitchen items among others on a daily basis. To enable fulfilling these needs without hardships, retail shops should be allowed to take orders for home deliveries,” said Chief executive officer of the Retailers Association of India (RAI), Kumar Rajagopalan. “Allowing non-food retailers to carry out home deliveries will ensure that people have fewer reasons to step outside.”
The store premises can be allowed to be opened to the limited extent of fulfilling home delivery orders while being closed for walk-in customers thus ensuring social distancing and convenience to customers, he added.
Rajagopalan said that the shutting down of non-food retail wasn’t a solution; instead removing roadblocks at the local level would not just help curb the spread but will also help save millions of livelihoods and revive the economy.
He also said that restrictions on the duration of stores selling daily essentials could lead to crowding, thus leading to a safety risk for both store staff and customers. “It could also result in operational challenges, supply chain issues, panic buying and hoarding of essential commodities apart from being inconvenient for customers, since they now have to manage their essentials shopping within a short time frame,” felt Rajagopalan.
Vijay Kalantari, president of the All India Association of Industries says how the partial lockdown has already crippled the economy. “The business community isn’t able to plan things ahead due to this constant talk lockdown. Also, taking decisions becomes difficult with every state implementing lockdown differently unlike last year when there was a uniform nation-wide lockdown policy in place. Unlike say states like Karnataka, Rajasthan and Punjab, Maharashtra went for complete lockdown, which doesn’t offer any leeway. Maharashtra could either let businesses stay open on alternate days or for a few hours to ensure flow of the economy continues.”
The business community was barely recovering from the impact of the earlier lockdown and it cannot afford to go in for complete lockdown yet again. Unlike last year, when there was fear in the air, this year since people know what Covid is and with medications and vaccines available, businesses are now looking for recovery, he said. “States must create a level of confidence for them to sustain; Panic is not good for business.”