Will Maharashtra COVID Lockdown Work Despite Trade Pushback?

Maharashtra govt’s thoughtful lockdown approach for daily wagers is what has contrarily upset trade organisations.

4 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

Call it a curfew, call it severe restrictions, call it by any other name. But Maharashtra has most certainly imposed a lockdown almost exactly a year to the date after the 2020 national lockdown.

But while last year’s lockdown was meekly accepted by most stakeholders, this time, despite adequate warnings by the government, detailed consultations with those likely to be affected and appeals to the general citizenry to co-operate, the curfew has not gone down well with most people.

Many trade organisations, among them the Maharashtra Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture has threatened legal action — it’s not quite clear what sort of legal action — against the Maharashtra government, for trying to “break their trade” under the guise of “breaking the chain” of COVID-19. It is an indicator of how little they care for their lives and those of the people dealing with them.


Why Maharashtra Govt Was Left With No Choice But to Impose Day & Night Curfew

And yet, does the government have any choice or did any of these trade organisations co-operate with the government in preventing the second surge of COVID-19 in different parts of the state today?

When the spread of the virus seemed to be receding after November 2020, there was not much precaution taken in terms of employee protocols, safe distancing, masking up, and other measures.

Citizens too have repeatedly ignored the appeals of CM Uddhav Thackeray to help the government contain the virus, by violating all precautionary measures. This has left the government with little choice but to impose a day and night curfew across the state.

Maharashtra’s Demand for Universal Vaccination Amid Bitter Run-Ins With Centre

Amid bitter run-ins with the central government over the shortfall in the supply of vaccines to the state, Maharashtra has been seeking to universalise the vaccination programme to include even 25-year-olds. Maharashtra is also posting huge figures of infections and deaths because it is not ‘fudging’ its numbers unlike states like Gujarat or Uttar Pradesh, who have been accused of hiding the actual data of COVID infections. It is also testing in ample measure, and there are very few mismatches between figures of casualties coming out of official sources and the actual physical counts out of hospitals. Again, unlike many other states in the country.

It is a particularly difficult task to control the spread of the virus in a city like Mumbai, though the satellite towns of Maharashtra like Pune and Nashik, and its winter capital Nagpur too, are faring very poorly.

Maharashtra Govt’s Compassionate Lockdown Approach — Which Upset Trade Organisations

One can say it is the lack of vigilance on the part of both the government and citizens that has led to this surge, but it is not an issue specific to Maharashtra alone, though the state is doing its best to fight back with compassion towards those affected. The government gave ample notice to all, including roadside vendors, for another break in their economic chain, and is allowing deliveries of services within certain limits so as not to completely break the chain of demand, supply, income and earnings during the lockdown.

Daily wage earners too have been allowed to provide services so long as they do not contribute to crowding and maintain physical distancing, but such measures do not really go very far to secure the welfare of the people.

Reminiscent of 2020, most migrant workers who had returned to Mumbai in hope of a new beginning are once again seen hitting the roads. However this year, they may not have to walk for miles under the blazing sun — not all transport has been curtailed; the government has imposed conditions on employers for the care of their COVID-affected workers and ensured that they continue to earn a certain level of income.

But this is what has, contrarily, disappointed the trade organisations who have to continue to dole out cash while unable to make any returns during the lockdown.

Maharashtra COVID Crisis Management: Worse Than a Catch-22

It is thus somewhat worse than a Catch-22 situation, wherein the government ends up annoying the rich, disappointing the poor, and simply depriving the salaried classes, most of whose companies have been ordered to work to just fifty percent capacity and thus have to suffer commensurate losses in income.

Meanwhile, the surge in cases have strained the healthcare facilities in the state, with the government in dire need of COVID beds (most private and government hospitals are full), oxygen facilities and ventilators. In some ways, this year's surge is worse than 2020, with longer queues at crematoriums and huge shortages of disposal kits for the bodies of COVID patients.

The situation has got grim enough for Thackeray to write to the Centre to declare the COVID crisis a ‘natural disaster’ so that the state may be in a position to draw in additional funds and seek more central assistance to fight the calamity.

With cases breaching the 60,000 mark by Thursday, 16 April, the Maharashtra government is almost in a state of emergency, not only adding several more COVID beds to hospitals, but requisitioning even four-star hotels to press into service as non-emergency care units for COVID patients. This, even as COVID-19 continues to relentlessly march on as the Grim Reaper.

(Sujata Anandan is a journalist, and author of `Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever', 'Maharashtra Maximus: The state, its people & politics' and tweets @sujataanandan. This is a an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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