Economic engine must restart on 15th April

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By: Aseem Pahuja

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah suspects a conspiracy to blame Muslims on the pretext of fighting coronavirus. Scant notice ought to have been taken of his paranoia in the normal times, but allowing the claim to go unchallenged now would undermine the very serious war against the deadly virus. Without defeating COVID-19, normalcy cannot be restored in a country of over 130 crore people. It is a fight for survival, especially given that already there are rising concerns about the health of the economy and the capability of the State to ensure the well-being of its poor and hungry people. Abdullah, who has had the benefit of a proper education, ought not to see everything through the prism of Hindu-Muslim. The incident he is referring to is genuine and no State can condone the highly reckless behaviour of the Tablighi Jamaat in defying the orders of the authorities meant to contain the spread of the virus. On Wednesday, the police charged the chief cleric of the Jamaat, one Maulana Saad, and six others under the Epidemic Disease Act. Aside from the conference, which was attended by more than 2,000 people, the Jamaat organisers allowed hundreds to continue living in the crammed building in the Nizamuddin Basti despite having been issued a notice by the local police to observe social distancing and a complete isolation. Worse, the Jamaat chief instigated his followers to defy the police, calling the coronavirus warning a “conspiracy to keep Muslims away from fellow Muslims”. Ignorance can be condoned in some cases, but here was a willful defiance of the law and commonsense.

He reflected the same selfdelusion which underpins the jihadi terror in search of a higher life in the Other World. As a result, the police and medical personnel are now hard put to trace those who had attended the Tablighi event and then fanned out in various States. In Bihar there was violent resistance by the Tablighi members against their submitting themselves for the mandatory testing. In Rajasthan, the authorities were desperately tracking down over 500 people who had returned after attending the same conference.

Unfortunately, the usual loudmouthed secularist elements seem to have lost their tongue, though due to the highly irresponsible actions of the Tablighi Jamaat the already stretched health system had come under intense pressure. Significantly, the Delhi Government is relying on digital surveillance to locate those who had attended the Tablighi conference. Meanwhile, on Wednesday there were 386 new cases primarily due to the Jamaat congregation. A Union Health Ministry spokesperson denied the spike was a national trend. Testing had picked up but was still poor in comparison to countries like South Korea and China. This was due to lack of enough testing kits, though 150-odd private labs had now been licensed to carry out the tests. A Health Ministry spokesman maintained that we were still not in the community transmission stage and were required to follow the lockout seriously to avoid the worse in the coming days. Meanwhile, a consensus among policy-makers and others keenly observing the situation seems to be emerging that the current all-embracing lockdown cannot be continued beyond the three-week period without inflicting serious harm on the lives of the poor and on the economy in general. Regardless of the stage the pandemic may be on April 14th, the authorities will have to consider sector-wise opening of business, commerce and industry. Otherwise, a bigger problem of shortages of essential goods and services might arise to torment the general public. We need to allow various e-commerce companies to resume functioning as early as possible. Admittedly, delivery systems have been disrupted during the lockdown but a way has to be found so that a vast section of the population is not inconvenienced indefinitely. It is notable that e-commerce companies provide employment to tens of lakhs of people directly or indirectly. Maybe there is some merit in the plea to enforce home isolation for vulnerable groups, say, those above the age of 60, and allow the rest to function normally after April 14th. India is a poor country. It cannot afford to remain locked out indefinitely. We are confident the authorities do not want the lockdown to last a day longer than necessary, but given the plight of the poor people all efforts must be made to re-start the economic engine on the 15th of April. INAV

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