Skip to main content

Mourning 700 plus lockdown deaths, protesters in 22 states seek accountability


Counterview Desk
Observing the Day of National Mourning in the memory of those who lost their lives on account of the nation-wide lockdown, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 25, several people’s organizations have demanded that Central and state governments should fix responsibility for the death of more than 700 persons as a result of “large-scale starvation, denial of medical care, exhaustion, accidents of people travelling back home, police atrocities”.
Reporting on the first of its kind post-lockdown protest held across 22 states, including in front of the Food Corporation of India and Niti Aayog offices in Delhi, a note on the protests prepared by the Right to Food Campaign, which coordinated the campaign, said, people in small groups gathered in rural and urban areas, and handed over memorandums to the officials concerned with a list of demands.

Text:

The national lockdown which started on March 25, 2020 to curb the spread of Covid-19 has caused unprecedented distress across the country. The lockdown has been especially brutal for migrants, homeless, and other poor people. It has resulted in large-scale starvation, denial of medical care, exhaustion, accidents of people travelling back home, police atrocities and other gross hardships, which have together claimed about 700 lives by May-end.
June 1 was observed as the Day of National Mourning to highlight the colossal loss of life and livelihood that continues because of the brutal lockdown and utter apathy of the central government and many state governments.
Across 22 states (Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal), individuals and groups associated with the right to food campaigns participated in the day of action.
Several national networks, such as the All-India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS), National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) and National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), also joined the call.

People came together in small groups, wore black bands and observed two-minute silence in memory of all those who have lost their lives due to the lockdown and to the virus. This included individuals in their homes, NREGA workers at worksites, people standing in queue for their rations, activists at prominent public places and so on.
There were also protests at the Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns in Jaipur and in front of the Niti Aayog in New Delhi. Post-lockdown, this was the first physical public action and the response across the states was over whelming. Memorandums were given to local officials and placards and posters made by people demanded the following:
  • A universal public distribution system (PDS) that provides every individual with 10 kg grain, 1.5 kg pulses and 800 gm cooking oil for at least the next six months.
  • Nutritious hot cooked meals through anganwadi centres and school midday meals. 
  • Annual 240 days of employment under Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to every person and introduction of an urban employment guarantee scheme. 
  • Cash transfers of at least Rs 7000 per household for at least the next six months. 
  • Safe travel facilities for migrants and others stranded in different parts of the country. 
  • 3 percent GDP investment for strengthening of the public health system to enable universal, comprehensive and free at user-interface services including free testing and treatment of Covid-19. 
Although states have started distribution of ration and the central government has announced additional 5 kg of grain per person, free of cost, for the months of April-June, the supply is irregular and there is lack of transparency in the distribution system. Also, this support is restricted to only those with a ration card.
The government should provide nutritious food items such as pulses and edible oil. In absence of monitoring and grievance redressal mechanism, it has become difficult to register complaints in the system.
It is therefore important to universalize the PDS to minimize exclusion. Because of the targeted approach to ration distribution, there is still widespread hunger and even deaths due to starvation. Many members of extremely vulnerable groups, such as the “particularly vulnerable tribal groups” do not have ration cards. They are likely to become even more food insecure as the monsoons arrives.

If the government does not universalize the PDS without further delay, malnutrition and starvation deaths are likely to increase, especially in poor states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. there is no point in talking about one nation one ration when the issue is that many people do not have ration cards, what is needed is a universal PDS. The Covid-19 crisis in India has further exposed the already broken health system of the country.
Post-lockdown, this was the first physical public action. Response across India was over whelming. Memorandums were given to local officials
The engagements of hospitals in dealing with the pandemic has further reduced the access and availability of other health services. This has affected the routine health services of out patient department (OPD), delivery facilities, dialysis, chemotherapy and regular supply of medicines for chronic illness.
For example, the tea gardens in West Bengal have reported three deaths because of referral of cases and absence of transport facilities during the lockdown. The government should immediately resume regular health services both in rural and urban areas. It has also failed in providing sufficient protective gears to those at the frontline in combatting the pandemic.
While the rich can avail paid quarantine facilities, the poor are forced to stay in government quarantines. Many government quarantines provide insufficient and poor quality food and lack basic facilities like clean drinking water and toilets. Livelihoods of millions of people, especially the daily wage workers and others in the unorganized sector, have been affected due to the lockdown.
Poverty has largely been associated to rural areas since the poor in urban areas were ghettoised. It is for the first time that the country has seen the scale of urban poverty. The government should think about an urban employment guarantee programme or a cash incentive programme that ensures a dignified life to the urban poor.
Further, due to people going back to villages, the government should identify new works under MGNREGA so that there is regular livelihood opportunities for everyone. The lockdown has been marked with an increased number of arrests, and a general heightening of state repression.
There is no sign of cooperative federalism, which poses a great hurdle in responding to the crises due to the pandemic and the lockdown. The opaqueness with which the PM Cares fund is being operated is also a matter of serious concern. Also, the central government must provide adequate support to West Bengal to enable the state to recover from the super cyclone Amphan.

All policies relating to ease of doing business would fail if the workers, farmers and the poor are denied their basic entitlement. To make matters worse, through changes in labour laws, the government has robbed the hard-won rights of workers.
We unequivocally oppose these changes in labour laws and demand the government to take back its decisions. The Covid-19 crisis has affected everyone irrespective of the class, creed and religion. It is unacceptable that a humanitarian crisis is being communalised and no action is being taken against those who are responsible. If the government doesn’t meet people’s demands, they will again take to the streets and continue to raise their voice.

Comments

TRENDING

North Gujarat gram panchayat bars villagers from dealing with Muslim hawkers, traders

By Our Representative  A gram panchayat in North Gujarat has barred its residents not to buy anything from Muslim traders and hawkers. An order of the Waghasan group gram panchayat of Tharad taluka of Banaskantha district dated June 30 states that the decision has been taken in the wake of beheading of a Hindu tailor after he posted a derogatory writeup on Prophet Mohammad in Udaipur. The gram panchayat resolution says, anyone seen buying or selling any commodity from a Muslim hawker or trader would be fined Rs 5,100. Bringing this to light, Mujahid Nafees, convener, Minority Coordination Committee, in a letter to Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel, says, the state government should take legal action against the panchayat chief who has signed the “unjust” order. The letter says, the act of the sarpanch and other signatories is a violation of rule of law of the state and threat to peace, pointing out, the move is in violation of Article 15 of the Constitution, which says that none

Unlike Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India: Ukrainian scholar tells 'Indian friends'

Counterview Desk In an open letter to "dear Indian friends", Anastasia Piliavsky, born in Odessa, Ukraine, studied at Boston and Oxford Universities (on a Rhodes Scholarship), and now teaches at King’s College, London, has said that she faces "deep moral dilemma", personally and professionally, over the "astonishingly unified Indian response to the war in Ukraine." Based on her interaction with a "number of thoughtful and caring Indian friends", in this letter, she says, she is "reeling at the ubiquitous silence at, justifications of or outright support for Putin’s terror, which now prevails in India, at the ubiquitous #IStandWithPutin and #istandwithrussia hashtags." She insists, India must understand, "Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India. Soviet leaders, beginning with (the Ukrainian) Nikita Khrushchev – who declared hindi rusi bhai bhai – built up deep political and cultural exchange with India." Text : I

PLFS data: Is rising employment good news? Deeper analysis suggests contrary results

By Ishwar Chandra Awasthi, Puneet Kumar Shrivastav*  Results of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), 2020-21 , released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India (GoI) on June 14, 2022, show improvement in work force participation rate (WPR) and labour force participation rate (LFPR) and declining unemployment rate. Four rounds of data have been released from 2017-18 to 2020-21 based on PLFS. The general trend in the last four rounds clearly shows consistent increase in WPR and LFPR and falling unemployment rates by usual status (PS+SS). Though increase in WPR and LFPR is reported highest in 2019-20 over 2018-19, yet rising trend in these two key indicators continues throughout, and similarly fall in unemployment is registered highest in 2019-20 over 2018-19. Clearly, the recent results give some solace and relief after unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic that has entailed enormous loss of human lives and livelihoods and crippled economic activit

Technocratic globalism, tyranny? Health Ministry warned: bill to 'enslave' Indians

Sandeep Pandey, Tushar Gandhi By Rosamma Thomas*  Union of Concerned Citizens, a group comprising Magsaysay Award winner Prof Sandeep Pandey, human rights activist Tushar Gandhi, former judge of the Bombay High Court BG Kolse Patil, pediatrician Dr Jacob Puliyel and several renowned Indian citizens have written to the Union Health Minister cautioning him against tabling the draft Public Health Bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. “The Public Health (Prevention, Control And Management Of Epidemics, Bio-Terrorism And Disasters) Bill, 2017 and a Prospective Bill of 2022 as discussed in news articles, is straightforwardly violative of Fundamental Rights of the citizens of India and therefore, Ultra Vires of the Indian Constitution. It contravenes several International Treaties and Conventions including the Nuremberg Treaty of 1947 which was enacted to ensure that no country would repeat such inhuman medical atrocities on fellow human beings”, the 12-page letter reads. “Strangely, t

Chennai residents 'suffering': Faulty design, implementation of storm water project

By NS Venkataraman*  The Greater Chennai Corporation is now implementing storm water drainage project in 559 roads, covering a distance of 1033 kilometres, which cost around Rs 4,070 crore. For this massive project, which is targeted to be completed between April and September this year, huge loan has been availed from World Bank, Asian Development Bank and others. Several technocrats have pointed out that the project has been designed with outdated technology and quality of the implementation is so poor that the residents have been put to great hardships. As part of the project, digging of the road has been done to around 5 to 6 feet deep and width of around 4 to 5 feet. The drains are being constructed using steel reinforced cement concrete with two walls on either side with provisions for manhole, chute etc. This has been done in front of several houses leaving little space between the gate of the house and that of the drainage structure. As the work has been going on for mor

'Drop all falsed charges': 150 citizens demand early release of AltNews co-founder

Counterview Desk  About 150 concerned citizens have demanded the release of Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of the fact-checkng newsportal AltNews, arrested over a 2018 tweet which allegedly hurt religious sentiments, even as booking for criminal conspiracy and having received foreign funds in violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). Denied bail last weekend and sent to 14-day judicial custody, the concerned citizens, in a statement, regretted that while the Delhi High Court issued notice to the Delhi police on a petition filed on behalf of Zubair challenging the legality and propriety of his police remand and the seizure of his electronic devices, the “frivolous case” continues. Excerpts: The illegal arrest of Mr. Mohammed Zubair happened on June 27, 2022, by the Delhi Police for allegedly hurting religious sentiments and promoting enmity over a tweet from 2018. The IPC Sections included 153(a) (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race,

Prime Minister's 'affordable' housing policy fails to help Gujarat slum dwellers: Study

By Rajiv Shah  A new study on the implementation of one of the major policy initiatives for the urban poor by the Narendra Modi government after it came to power, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), has said that in Gujarat, which happens to be the Prime Minister’s home state, has quoted state officials as “confirming” that no progress towards tenure regularization, a key requirement for providing housing to the state’s slum dwellers. Stating that this particularly true of smaller town, the study, carried out by the non-profit Homes in the City (HIC), which is based in Bhuj, district headquarter of Kutch that saw a devastating earthquake in 2001, says, the failure to provide affordable housing is there despite the fact that there has been “significant demand” in all the 83 out of 153 Gujarat municipalities studied by experts involved in the study. According to the study, out f a total of 1.41 lakh demands for housing under the Beneficiary Led Construction (BLC) category, 94,232 (66.7%)

'Contractor-official nexus led to RTI activist's murder': Fact-finding team seeks probe

Courtyard inside of PWD office where Ranjeet Soni was killed Counterview Desk  A fact-finding team* visited Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh (MP) on June 19, 2022 to meet with the family of Ranjeet Soni, who was shot dead on June 2, 2022 inside the premises of the PWD office in Vidisha. The objective was to gather information about the circumstances surrounding the death of Ranjeet Soni and his work on exposing corruption through the use of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. A report prepared by the team members says that Ranjeet had been extensively using the RTI Act to access information from the government, and upon receiving documents showing misuse of public funds or corruption, he was filing complaints to various authorities including the Lokyukta, Publi Works Department (PWD) and the Chief Minister’s Office. It notes, Ranjeet used to work as a contractor and often undertook government works in collaboration with other contractors, including those being investigated for his murder. A f

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Electricity Bill: Centre's reform measures contain 'carrot and stick package' for states

Counterview Desk  The Peoples’ Commission on Public Sector and Public Services (PCPSPS), claiming to be a network of eminent academics, jurists, erstwhile administrators, trade unionists and social activists, seeking consultations with stakeholders with those who are against the government’s decision to monetise, disinvest and privatise public assets/enterprises, has said that the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill-2022 will have far-reaching impacts on the finances of states. Insisting that the proposed Bill would lead to “assault on India’s federal structure”, in a statement, it says, it would weaken the finances of states’ power distribution companies, have adverse impact on utility employees, cripple the states' finances, impose a heavy cost burden on the smaller subsidized consumers (especially farmers), and benefit only corporate business houses. “States cannot afford to ignore the far-reaching implications of the Bill on their economy, finances, agricultural and industria