Lockdown relief the need of the hour

By Toki Blah

With 18 new Covid- 19 related deaths and 584 new Covid cases ( ST 5th June 2021) the end to the 2nd wave of the pandemic for Meghalaya and its people is nowhere in sight. This has resulted in an extension of the lockdown until June 14. Will that be the end of the lockdown and a start to a fresh back- to- normal period? Unlikely and further extension of the lockdown is still a very distinct possibility. It all depends on our ability to slow down the Covid cases but lest we forget, especially those critics of the lockdown, that the lockdown is not a choice wilfully taken. Right from the very start of the 2nd wave there was great reluctance of the administration to impose a total lockdown on the people. This much we have to accept and admit. It was the constant unstoppable surge of Covid cases, the rising number of fatalities that brought the lockdown upon us. Many are the faults and misgivings of a lockdown but at present it is the only practical mechanism at our disposal to contain the spread of this dreaded disease. This is a fact and we have to learn how to make the lockdown as bearable as possible. The only way to help avoid future lockdowns is to get the whole population vaccinated as fast as possible. That is reality and the sooner we accept it the better it will be for all of us.
One of the major defects of a lockdown is the adverse impact it has on the poor and the marginalised sections of society. Daily wage earners; those who live from hand to mouth, those who depend on daily earnings for keeping body and soul together, these are the hardest hit by a lockdown. “Tighten your belt and girdle your loins” is easier said than done for such sections of society. We are talking about loss of source of daily income. A more than a month old stay- at- home occurrence has completely depleted whatever savings or reserves such people have. Hunger and starvation stare them in the face and any further forceful confinement can only result in a social explosion. It’s something we can ill afford at this stage so something needs to be done to ease the pressure of hunger and desperation in such sections of society. The Government and its administration will have to start thinking and do something to provide relief for such people. From what is learnt, the problem is more acute in our urban centres than in the rural, but all the same some form of relief to the poor is called for while the state is under Covid lockdown.
Food in the form of rice, dal, cooking oil, potatoes, salt, tea leaves and sugar should form the bare essentials of such relief. A two pronged relief system can be initiated especially for our urban areas. Locality shops dealing with such essentials be allowed to remain open at least three days a week. The poor and deserving beneficiaries under this Covid relief programme be identified through the Dorbars. Incident Commanders (already identified, posted and working) be made responsible for funds to be passed to the dorbars for further distribution to the identified poor who in turn will avail their provisions from their respective locality shops. Relief to the poor will be achieved while at the same time the micro economy at the locality level is maintained. The pressure will be relieved especially for urban areas. For God’s sake don’t let paucity of funds be an excuse. We still have 120 crores lying unutilised as MLA funds. Let it be used for a worthy and life saving cause.
A majority of our poor are there in the rural areas. They too need relief and assistance in such pandemic times. We already have MGNREGA in place. It simply needs to be reactivated as a Food –for- Work relief measure and towards the creation of sustainable social and community assets. One such sustainable social asset that can be started during this Covid lockdown is the construction of rain water harvesting units for each rural household. A 10,000 litre underground water storage tank can be sanctioned for each rural household under this relief scheme. This will provide work and at the same time a community asset in the form of an environmentally friendly household water reservoir would also have been created. Village level essential commodity shops can be activated at the same time and they will serve as food outlets for the needy. Once again relief and revitalising the rural economy would have been simultaneously achieved by this relief package. Tree plantation is another major and work providing measure that can be undertaken during the monsoons under a Govt sponsored relief programme. Funds can also be released to our ADCs for such work as the majority of forest areas is under their care. This would help involve the ADCs in providing relief to the people during the Pandemic.
The above are simply relief interventions for the needy and they do not, by any stretch of the imagination, constitute any comprehensive measures for tackling the pandemic itself. Successful handling of the current pandemic will require foresight, planning and ample funding. The latter might be in short supply but this should not stop us from anticipating the impact of the much talked about 3rd wave. It must not affect the vision and imagination of the administrator from preparing for the worst. It must not catch Meghalaya unprepared as it will likely affect the most vulnerable of society – our children. We have a small window of opportunity to prepare, let’s make the most of it. Of concern however are the many manmade stumbling blocks that hinder and obstruct efforts to come to grips with unpleasant realities. Meghalaya abounds in sceptics, political opportunists, conspiracy theorists and religious fanatics who oppose both lockdowns and vaccinations. Alas! they have only theories and no proven workable alternate solutions other than their baseless whining. Everyone has prayed for a cure from the plague. Vaccination is the answer to our prayers. Why doubts still persist; why vaccination hesitancy exists, can only be attributed to the wiles of the Devil. There is no other explanation for an educated society. So let’s all get vaccinated. It’s the only answer to beat the plague and lockdowns.
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