Context: If the COVID-19 pandemic lashes India with severity, it will affect Indian middle class along with India’s impoverished people.
- The Union government has announced a package, including additional 5 kg grain a month for the next three months under the PDS; ₹500 per month for the next three months for women holding Jan-Dhan Yojana accounts; three months’ pension in advance to nearly three crore widows, senior citizens and the differently-abled; and ₹2,000 more for MGNREGA workers.
- The measures adopted by the government to stymie the progress of the virus were first to introduce a ‘work from home’ measure, to urge people to wash their hands frequently, physical distancing, and then an unprecedented 21-day lockdown.
Govt. measures insufficient: It is difficult to survive on just two days’ salary and 5 kg grain a month, with no health insurance.
Ineffectiveness of lockdown: A total lockdown was possible only for the rich and the middle class with assured incomes.
- But it has thrown the millions of informal workers and destitute people , circular migrants, estimated at 100 million into joblessness.
- The crisis of hunger is even more dire for older people without caregivers, and persons with disability.
- Migration: The visuals of thousands of migrants, suddenly left with no food and work, walking to their homes hundreds of miles away, dodging the police, showed clearly that the lockdown is ineffective.
Ineffectiveness of ‘social distancing’ (physical distancing) and ‘self-isolation’: How is this feasible for large extended families who crowd into narrow single rooms in slums and working-class tenements? Or for the homeless people destitute people in beggars’ home prisoners in overcrowded jails
The poor capacity of India’s health system: A Jan Swasthya Abhiyan estimate is that a district hospital serving a population of two million may have to serve 20,000 patients, but they are bereft of the beds, personnel and resources to do this. A few are having a single ventilator.
- Social welfare: For two months, every household in the informal economy, rural and urban, should be given the equivalent of 25 days’ minimum wages a month until the lockdown continues, and for two months beyond this.
- Pensions must be doubled and home-delivered in cash.
- There should be free water tankers supplying water in slum shanties throughout the working days.
- Governments must double PDS entitlements, which includes protein-rich pulses, and distribute these free at doorsteps.
- For homeless children and adults, and single migrants, it is urgent to supply cooked food to all who seek it, and to deliver packed food to the aged and the disabled in their homes using the services of community youth volunteers.
- To ensure jails are safer, all prison undertrial prisoners, except those charged with the gravest crimes, should be released. Likewise, all those convicted for petty crimes.
- All residents of beggars’ homes, women’s rescue centres and detention centres should be freed forthwith.
- Strengthening health infra: India must immediately commit 3% of its GDP for public spending on health services, with the focus on free and universal primary and secondary health care.
- Nationalizing private health care: Authorities should follow the example of Spain and New Zealand and nationalise private health care.
An ordinance should be passed immediately that no patient should be turned away or charged in any private hospital for diagnosis or treatment of symptoms which could be of COVID-19.