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Callous Response To A Crisis

Callous Response To A Crisis

As lockdown 0.4 draws to its culminating stage, any further extension of the cautionary exercise appears to be inconsequential – at least where Goa is concerned. With the fight against the pandemic far from over, but with zero cases of COVID-19, the state was categorized as a ‘Green Zone’ by the Centre on May 1.

Yet, just within a fortnight Goa’s green zone status was under threat as it had started recording a number of fresh COVID-19 cases against the backdrop of relaxations that automatically come with its classification as a safe territory vis-à-vis the coronavirus infections. The score is 39 and still counting!

Hence one fails to understand the haste shown by the authorities to have the state declared a green zone amidst the concerted efforts by the government to contain the spread of the disease! No matter how strict the guidelines; with the resumption of most of the economic activities, including industries in the state, it remains to be seen how well the people will adjust themselves to the ‘mandatory’ norms in this era of social distancing.

Of course for a state tottering at the brinks of a fiscal collapse, an indefinite lockdown will only worsen the situation. But the urgency showed for ushering in ‘normalcy’ by the state government when the whole nation is engaged in waging a bitter war against the novel coronavirus has been unbelievable.

However, if at all the state did achieve the zero-infection credit, it is the administration that deserves a pat on its back for sealing the state’s borders effectively. The reports of few ‘infiltrations’ which received extensive coverage in the social media notwithstanding, the government did succeed in containing the spread of the virus to some extent.

It is only now after those many who are stranded outside Goa have been given a ‘safe passage’ home that the state is witnessing a sudden spike in the number of fresh cases. With various transport modes expected to ferry home many more from within the country and abroad, one is indeed looking at a very grim picture. Besides Goans desiring to return home, the GSIA too has got a nod to bring factory staff from across the borders.

The state will also witness a lot of interstate cargo movement as well. How well is Goa placed to meet these exigencies! The migrant problems continue to haunt the administration. If the tamasha happening around the Madgaum railway station these days is anything to go by, it does appear that the migrants in Goa desirous of returning to their native places are in for a long and miserable wait.

Despite the railways running a number of Shramik special trains from the state to carry thousands of stranded migrants back home, it is quite surprising to have the sort of scenes witnessed at the Konkan railway station at Margao where enraged migrant labourers clashed with the police on Monday last. Several migrants gathering around the immediate vicinity of the railway station with their bags and belongings is definitely not a healthy sign and pooh-poohs claims by the administration of having an efficient system in place which ensures that the entire process of transporting the migrants back home is carried out very methodically and strictly conforms to the guidelines prescribed vis-à-vis the COVID pandemic.

Reports of stranded migrant labourers giving vent to their feelings of angst and desperation and bringing about riotous situations in various parts of the country indicates the complete failure, or should once say a marked reluctance shown by the government in coming to terms with the enormity of the situation.

With no known vaccines or other curative means to contain the coronavirus infection; social distancing norms and the mandatory wearing of face-masks continue to be the most reliable methods to ward off the dangers. But the absolute disregard shown by the migrants who are seen congregating in clusters in the immediate radius around the Margao railway station is indeed a cause for alarm.

One can well understand the plight of the migrant labourers who are seemingly at their wits end challenged that they are by the impossible circumstances arising out of the Coronavirus scare. However, questions necessarily need to be asked as to how such a situation came to be despite the ‘sincerest’ efforts by the government to ferry the migrants home. Apparently there has been a communication gap between the ‘facilitators’ and the ‘migrants’ wishing to go back resulting in unmanageable crowds having become the order of the day around most of the ‘departure’ points!

How does the government propose tackling this issue! As it is, Goa is sitting on tip of the iceberg with reports of a steady rise in the number of infections. Even as the authorities have been found struggling to handle the passengers disembarking at the Margao railway station by the Rajdhani trains, other long-distance trains are set to bring in more passengers, beginning from June 1.

With the government planning to start domestic flight operations from May 25, the intra-country air travel in the coming weeks will also not be without its own share of hazards. Furthermore, the news that the promoters of various airlines have rejected the proposal to keep middle seats vacant once flights resume, calling the proposed rules redundant while pointing out that such measures of distancing wouldn’t guarantee complete safety for the passengers, is as scaring as any other alarming bit of news can be in these days of the pandemic.

But it is more than obvious that the airlines resent these guidelines as such a step would worsen the economics for them, reeling that they are under the fiscal effects of the Coronavirus outbreak. 

Charter flights and cruise liners are to bring in several seafarers back home.   Goa is already being touted as a ‘stress-busting’ destination by the elite in the country and the state could well expect many such ‘arrivals’ adding to its woes.

With the state executive committee having asked the health secretary, the police and the district collectors to work out standard operating procedures to handle the people who will come to Goa after the resumption of regular flight and train services, it is quite evident that the state government is equally apprehensive of the days ahead. The post-lockdown period will inadvertently open the floodgates to more unsafe and damaging situations. It is this phase that the state will have to be on guard against.

Yet, if a seemingly ordinary exercise as ‘repatriating’ the migrants has proved to be a Herculean task for the administration, one shudders to think of the consequences the ‘normalcy’ that will be ushered in brings along with it after the lockdown ends! While one would not like to imply that the government has been slack in its performances, it does come as a bit of a shock that the administrative setup with an eye on containing the COVID-19 surge, with a few exceptions of course, hasn’t been all that remarkable executing the tasks it has been entrusted with.

(Published on 1th June 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 23)