Catch-22 situation: COVID-19 invasion, economic devastation, & approaching flood fury

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By: Talmizur Rahman

COVID-19 made its appearance in Assam about seven weeks ago. Since then for several weeks, with Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma leading from the front in the true spirit of a covid warrior, the COVID-19 landscape in the state appeared to be fully under control. In fact, in comparison to many other states and the nation as a whole, the Assam scenario wore an enviably healthier look. However, most unfortunately, since about the fag end of April, the situation on the coronavirus front began turning dramatically for the worse. With close to 1.5 lakh people having entered Assam from across India over the last three weeks or so, the COVID-19 landscape in the state has turned upside down. COVID-19 positive cases are on a galloping mode and common sense presumption may be that the 1000 mark may be just a few days away. However, that may not be the end of the story. The killer virus may sweep across every nook and corner of Assam and indications are rife that the number may mount by thousands with rapid acceleration in the coming months. On the other hand, the emerging COVID-19 scenario in many of the advanced states of the country is still worse and that too is a huge threat to Assam.

A close analysis of the quantum jump registered on the COVID-19 front makes it clear as daylight that the situation in Assam was totally under control so long the lockdown was strictly enforced with minimum of relaxations. The scenario in the rest of India too was by and large fairly under control, though way behind Assam. Those were the days when movement of people from one part of the country to another was totally on the hold. However, once the Centre began relaxing the restrictions and people began moving from one state to another by bus and trains in swelling numbers, the COVID-19 landscape began taking a frightful turn for the worse with coronavirus positive cases on a seemingly on a multiplication mission.

In Assam, as per official data, nearly 1.5 lakh people have entered the state in the last few weeks. The result being that during this period hundreds of new COVID-19 positive cases have come to light. Majority of these cases are either returnees to Assam from other states or persons who have come into contact with such returnees. Further, as per official estimate, another twelve lakh people are in the waiting list and are expected to reach home by train in the coming one month. Moreover, with domestic flights having already resumed, the COVID-19 picture in the state is likely to be hit by another big jolt.

With the economy, both the national and of states like Assam, having hit the nadir, perhaps the Centre thought that it had no option other than withdrawing the lockdown restrictions in quick succession with a view to reviving the devastated economy. Note may be taken of the fact that for more than a year even before COVID-19 made its appearance in China, the national economy as well as that of Assam had been witnessing economic slowdown with accelerating momentum.

With virtually all restrictions, except for educational institutions and the like, being withdrawn, what remains of the lockdown is the night curfew. Again, there is no dearth of locations across Assam where social distancing has been reduced to a crude joke. Business interest and attempts to keep a semblance of the sagging economy somehow going by a section of traders are largely responsible for the directive of social distancing to land up in the gutters. In fact, Fancy Bazar in Guwahati was one such hot spot before being ravaged by COVID-19.

As of now, it is almost certain that COVID-19 invasion of Assam may be a continuous process for a long time to come and the massive multiplication process the gruesome reality. The indications are almost clear as daylight that the battle against the killer virus may run not only into years but even decades together. The scenario is so weird that it is extremely difficult to hazard a guess on the future COVID-19 landscape in the state.

In the face of the accelerating COVID-19 invasion, today the people of Assam are helplessly staring at a uncertain future marked by COVID-19 having a field day. And this could be only the beginning of the COVID-19 eclipse over the state. Hence, the question arises if we are confronting an era of living with COVID-19 and if many of us are destined to die of it. Further, had the economic scenario been a normal one, the sufferings might have been a bit lesser for the normal common man. Unfortunately, the people are faced with the uphill task of confronting COVID-19 threat amidst mounting economic strangulation.

Unfortunately for the people of Assam, the woe of annual flood ravage is lurking round the corner. The Monsoon downpour lasting for around three months or more is seemingly sometime away. Even the pre-Monsoon showers have let loose havoc in several parts of Assam. This indeed is as per expectation. For decades together the state government has as a rule miserably failed to register even a semblance of check on flood deluge and erosion. During the dry period it is the habit of the Dispur Czars to make bombastic statements on measures being initiated to control flood and erosion. Almost as a joke, the first few pre-Monsoon showers are sufficient to wash away any such below standard measures like embankment repair and the like. The present year is no different. The pre-Monsoon showers have led to flood fury even in the home constituency of the present state Water Resources minister, causing all his high voltage rhetoric to get carried away by the swelling flood waters.

So far as the ever darkening COVID-19 eclipse is concerned, the conscious circle obviously feels if the Centre made the cardinal mistake of announcing the lockdown at least two weeks late and that too without any prior notice causing crores to be stranded in different parts of the country. Further, it is also felt if would have been wiser for the authorities to continue with the earlier lockdown restrictions for some more time instead of taking a plunge into economic rejuvenation activities without seemingly any well planned roadmap. As of now, while COVID-19 takes a galloping stride across India, the nation finds itself gasping for breath while being helplessly plunged into an endlessly deep dark tunnel.

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