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Angels in uniform


As the world battles times of upheaval, there seems to be a radical change in the world order these days. With once-in-a-generation exposure to the deadly Coronavirus, here is a chance to appreciate our frontline warriors who are working tirelessly to save lives and make this planet a better place to live in. With large swathes of the world collaborating to keep at least 2 metres distance between each other, countries are experiencing an unbelievable situation to keep their acts together; most of them setting outstanding examples of good governance, amiable reformations, improved laws and better policing. As the world readjusts to the new order, Satarupa Banerjee explains how governance has changed during these trying times.

In just three months, the Coronavirus has turned the world upside down. Political leaders, diplomats, migrants, commoners, analysts, industrialists, the governors and the governed — all know they are living through epoch-making times, trying to combat this pernicious pandemic. It’s no longer about understanding the new norms that have come into effect now but it is more about continuing to live within such conditions for a very long period of time until the last shred of Corona is stamped out from this planet. 

In such an endeavour, however, we are not alone. Given the current situation, some people have completely altered their roles and responsibilities towards society and are not only helping patients cope and recover from the disease but also trying to make others feel safe and comfortable in the confines of their home. 

Throughout the world, very much like the journey of this disease, the list of Corona warriors has also expanded and changed over the months. 

From the doctors, nurses, ward boys, pathologists, pharmacists, healthcare workers to the police force, administrative agencies, essential supplies providers, NGOs and last but not the least, good Samaritans are trying their best to make this world a better place in these difficult times. 

In less than 20 days, the novel Coronavirus numbers in India have gone up by more than three times. On May 14, as nearly 4,000 new infections were discovered, the total number of confirmed cases had crossed 82,000. On April 25, this number was less than 27,000. Only about 53,000 of them were, however, ‘active’, meaning the rest, over 28,000, had recovered from the disease and were unlikely to infect others. As was being expected, Tamil Nadu over took Gujarat to become the state with the second-highest caseload. Though Tamil Nadu has shown a slight slowdown in the last two days, it reported 447 new cases on May 14 which was enough to take it past Gujarat. 

Kolkata along with the entire nation is fighting the COVID19 battle together

Three days before the end of lockdown 3.0, Maharashtra registered 1,602 fresh Coronavirus cases in one day, taking the total tally of confirmed patients to 27,524, according to the state health department data. This by far is the highest number of fresh cases reported in a single day in the state. Earlier, the biggest single-day spike stood at 1,495. The total number of Coronavirus cases in Mumbai alone has now increased to 16,579. 

Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum and home to nearly 60,000 families and 8.5 lakh people, reported 1061 cases and 49 deaths. 

One of the remarkable aspects of India’s capacity to cope with the pandemic since the March-end lockdown has been the ability of local government to work with people at the grassroots level to introduce innovative solutions to the challenges of Covid-19. 

With no vaccine or specific treatment available, “Prevention is better than cure” seems to be the global mantra. Therefore, social-distancing, lockdown, sanitization drives and use of protective gears are the only known measures to prevent infection. 

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee drawing circles to ensure social distancing

But in a country of 1.3 billion people, with almost one-third of the population living below the poverty line, the regulations are difficult to implement. Moreover, the lockdown period has been phenomenal in many senses. From witnessing communal flashes, preconceived xenophobia to attacks on police and health workers, the exodus of migrant workers across the length and breadth of the country in harshest of conditions; India has seen it all. 

However, the Centre and the respective state governments continue to provide all possible help. 

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee along with her team

With the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown having a far wider, nationwide impact, yet, they haven’t produced the severe food deprivation, soaring prices and hoarding that defined the previous historic calamities. There are reports of stranded migrant workers not getting enough cooked food or dry rations. But these are largely stories of localised administrative neglect and not comparable to the general lack of access to food seen in past catastrophes. 

This time, not only is there no food crisis, the problem has been more about demand than supply. Panic buying in the initial period of lockdown has given way to demand destruction from the closure of hotels, restaurants, tea stalls, caterers, sweetmeat shops and other business consumers. As a result, producers are the ones really suffering. Even with all the supply chain disruptions, there aren’t too many cases of food not being available in markets or at ration shops, community kitchens and relief camps. 

Banks don’t need to set aside cash reserves for loans given to small businesses between January 31 to July 31, or for credit to help consumers buy a car or home. Cash Reserve Ratio has been reduced to 3%. 

RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das has stopped the clock on loan repayments amid the unprecedented lockdown situation during which all lenders can freeze repayments for three months on term loans outstanding March 1. Lenders have also been allowed to suspend interest payments on working capital facilities for three months; accumulated interest can be paid later and the loans won’t be in default. 

Companies have been allowed additional 45 days for declaring their quarterly and annual results; the date for submission of corporate governance report has been extended by a month; company boards have been exempted from the provision of maximum time gap between two meetings. 

800 million poor will be getting 5 kilograms wheat or rice and 1 kg pulses every month from April to June while 80 million families will be given free cooking gas. 

200 million women with basic bank accounts will get Rs 500 a month until June; 30 million senior citizens, widows and disabled to get Rs 1,000; 87 million farmers will be immediately paid Rs 2,000 under an existing programme. At least 2.2 million health workers fighting COVID-19 will get an insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh. 

For people earning less than Rs 15,000 a month, the government will pay 24% of their monthly wages that feed into pension and Provident Fund accounts. 

The PM CARES (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations) Fund Trust, formed on March 27, 2020, to support India’s fight against Covid-19, has allocated Rs 3,100 crore, out of which a sum of approximately Rs 2,000 crore has been earmarked for the purchase of ventilators, Rs 1,000 crore for the care of migrant labourers and Rs 100 crore to support vaccine development.  

Rs 20 lakh crore economic package announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to spur growth to build a very self-reliant India and strengthen the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan’. 

The World Bank has approved $1 billion for India as social security technology fund for the country’s urban poor and migrant workers. 

Vande Bharat Mission, a massive repatriation operation planned by the Indian government, has brought back stranded Indians from different parts of the world. 

Shramik Special trains have transported over 1 million passengers and continue to ferry migrant workers, tourists, students, pilgrims and other stranded people from different places during the lockdown period. 

The Bengal government was the first to request the Prime Minister to stop all incoming international flights to Kolkata, just before he announced a nationwide 21-day lockdown in March end. 

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee herself hit the streets to enforce stricter lockdown norms and spread awareness about the pandemic. 

She has undertaken rounds of hospitals, mandis and police establishments to take stock of the situation, educating people on social-distancing. Measures have come in early and have helped the state to keep the numbers of the affected lower than others. 

A scheme called ‘Prochesta’ was announced under which each daily wage worker would get an assistance of Rs 1000 per month from the government, before the Centre’s handout schemes. The state government had announced insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh for people working in the healthcare sector, later increasing it to Rs 10 lakh, extending it to those who have been aiding the government in the fight against the virus, including healthcare professionals, sanitation workers and police personnel. 

Bengal has set up a nodal Coronavirus hospital in each of the state’s 22 districts. Testing in the state has risen by leaps and bounds, a large number of PPE kits, masks and hand sanitizers have been distributed to the frontline warriors; several hospitals, both state-run and private, have been dedicated to Covid patients; e-passes, WhatsApp numbers have been given out for those in need of support; provision of 5 kg ration to each cardholder free of cost has been announced; creation of more man-days in the 100 days’ work scheme has been emphasised, mainly for the migrant labourers returning from other states. 

The Chief Minister has also directed the District Magistrates to ensure full-fledged work of various schemes including ‘Banglar Abas Yojana’, ‘Banglar Gramin Sadak Yojana’, etc. 

The country has witnessed unprecedented support from the Armed Forces, standing as a wall as strong as ever against all threats to the nation. 

The ‘Khaki warriors’ have assumed tremendous roles to keep people safe in their houses, delivering medicines and essentials at their doorstep; ferrying migrants to their destinations; taking part in awareness campaigns and keeping round-the-clock vigil in hospitals, containment zones and areas under their jurisdiction to basically ensure protection and maintenance of law and order. 

IPS Sandhi Mukherjee believes policing has undergone a sea change and is going through reform by connecting with the public directly. 

“People are scared and confused. To help them recover from the mental trauma, to alleviate fear and instill confidence, the police force has adopted several steps of direct approach with a humane face — singing songs or reciting on street intersections. It’s an effective way to establish personal contact. However, the chief responsibility is to ensure and enforce law and order independently and judiciously, without any interference or obstacles, be it social or political. Consequently, they are, by and large, easily approachable, responsive, compassionate and helpful. Now is the time to weed out the negativity and work together as per the Constitution of India and as protectors of this land.” 

Motivational speaker and former IAS officer Vivek Atray

Motivational speaker Vivek Atray, former IAS officer, says governance is more about public welfare. “The efficiency of the government lies in its public centric duties and how well it can deliver the goodness to the people, right from implementing proper law and order to ensuring good management. The healthcare workers, doctors and other medical professionals are our frontline warriors who are working tirelessly to save lives, putting their lives at risk. I think India’s healthcare system has done a great job in handling the challenges of governance at this time of crisis. In future, more budget should be allocated to this sector, in particular, to enhance it beyond its current count of 4% of the GDP. It is the government’s duty to uplift the daily wage-earners. It is important to ensure that these people get back to their regular life and survive once Corona goes.” 

Incidentally, the pandemic has accelerated key technology trends, including digital payments, online education, digital readiness, telehealth and robotics, which can help reduce the spread of the virus while helping businesses stay open.

Technology, these days, have made society more resilient and are contributing immensely to keep it functional in a time of lockdowns and quarantines. And, some may also have a long-lasting impact beyond Covid-19. 

Former IAS Anil Swaroop said: “In my opinion, technology was always a game-changer. Today coincidentally, we are in such a situation where technology has come to our rescue. In several fields, including education, governance, administration or in surveillance, we will not deny that technology wasn’t there at all but it was not so predominant like it is today. This was primarily because we had the option of physical interaction. Now, social-distancing norms are in place, there is less scope for physical interaction and several businesses are now resorting to digital means in terms of trying to improvise work culture. This situation will have an impact in the days to come. Many organisations will continue working like it used to but for many, digitisation will start playing an important role. 

Former IAS Anil Swaroop

Some vital changes are also evident in governance post lockdown. 

The education sector will probably go digital post the pandemic. 

There will be better crisis management strategies, other management policies so as to create ample sources of funding. 

There may be a huge reduction in social ceremonies and physical gatherings as well. 

The tourism sector, which has taken a huge beating because of the pandemic, will continue to witness difficult times for a considerable period before people again start to venture out. 

But in the midst of this gloom, depression and pessimism, nature as a whole seems to be healing. For us humans, it is imperative to embrace this change and turn this pandemic into an opportunity to make this planet a better place to live in. Until then, let’s raise a toast to all the angels in uniform! 

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