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Jharkhand Covid restrictions? Hunger may worsen as Central grain stocks pile up

Counterview Desk 

As pandemic rages across the nation, the Modi government is busy with election riding on religious majoritarianism, well-known civil rights network, Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM) has said, demanding a large number of urgent measures both at the Central and state levels to stop the fast pace at which the disease is spreading across the country.
Especially referring to the situation in Jharkhand, JJM says, the situation is “alarmingly worsening”, pointing out, “Although the state's public health system has always been very weak, there have been no specific efforts by the state government to strengthen it in the past one year.” Things have reached a point where, already, cases are “doubling in the state every five days.”
JJM predicts, given this framework, the danger is, the economy and the situation of hunger are “likely to worsen”, and this would happen despite the fact that “currently government godowns have the highest even grain stock (3.5 times the buffer stock volume -- 772.33 lakh tonne).”
Already, it adds, “It is being reported from many states that migrant workers are desperate to return to their villages due to lack of employment and pandemic uncertainty.”

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While the Covid cases are exploding across the country, the Prime Minister and his entire cabinet are busy electioneering and flouting pandemic rules in the West Bengal elections. Also, his party’s government in Uttarakhand is organising the Kumbh mela with a crowd of millions. In the early days of Covid in 2020, the central government consistently gave statements that Covid was not a health epidemic. This year too, in the initial days of the rising wave of new types of Corona virus, the government did not publicly acknowledge the seriousness of this wave and of the mutant virus.
In many states, including Jharkhand, problems like lack of testing kits, lack of oxygen and beds in hospital, closure of OPD etc. are being seen. It seems that the government learnt nothing from last year’s experience of the pandemic. Public health system has not been strengthened in the last one year. In this year's budget of the central government, there was no special provision in this direction.
It is also alarming that while the central government sent the vaccines made in the country to other countries to gain appreciation from the international community, till date only 1% of the population of country’s population has been vaccinated. In Jharkhand, the situation is alarmingly worsening. Although the state's public health system has always been very weak, there have been no specific efforts by the state government to strengthen it (in the past one year). Currently, cases are doubling in the state every five days.
The second wave of the pandemic has again exposed the religious majoritarianism of the BJP and the central government. Last year, the BJP, the central government and their sponsored media institutions had left no stone unturned to discredit the Muslims by giving a communal color to the Covid cases found (during the Tablighi Jamaat). Today, millions of Hindus are crowding for Kumbh Mela and the number of cases in Haridwar is increasing daily. Not bothered by this, the BJP government of Uttarakhand is organizing the mela in the name of religious belief and the central government is silent on this blatant flouting of pandemic rules.
With the rising wave of covid, several states including Jharkhand have imposed a variety of restrictions. The economy is likely to worsen in the days to come. The situation of hunger will worsen too. On the other hand, currently government godowns have the highest even grain stock (3.5 times the buffer stock volume -- 772.33 lakh tonne). It is being reported from many states that migrant workers are desperate to return to their villages due to lack of employment and pandemic uncertainty. The rush in the limited number of trains being run stands witness to this.
It is a matter of grave concern that till now only 5800 workers have been registered in Jharkhand under the Inter-State Migrant Labour Act
In such a situation, it is necessary that the central government focuses its attention on preventing the pandemic and ensuring social security for the poor. Also, the central government should not pass any policy-related ordinance during this period (like the ordinance of the amendment to the agricultural laws last year). If there is a need for a policy change, then a special Parliament session should be convened to discuss the proposals. 
To fight the second wave of pandemic, Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha demands the following from the Centre and Jharkhand government:
  • The vaccination rate should be increased to at least three times without delay. Vaccine production should be increased and the need for vaccination should be widely disseminated. Camps for testing, vaccination and health services should organised in urban slums. RT PCR test should be widely done. Oxygen production should be increased and its adequate availability should be ensured. People should be given training on how to put patients on oxygen support.
  • Arrangements should be made on war footing to increase the number of beds in hospitals, medicines and for the placing of required medical staff. It should be ensured that the OPD services (for non-covid cases) continue running in government and private health centers and hospitals at every level. The state government should re-start the quarantine centers at the panchayat and block levels.
  • Budget to strengthen the public health system should be allocated without delay.
  • The state government should not impose complete lockdown under any circumstances. Economic activities should be kept running, as much as possible. Sufficient budget for Mukhyamantri Shahri Shramik Rozgar Yojana should be allocated and it should be implemented properly. Under MGNREGA, sufficient number of ‘kuchha’ schemes should be implemented immediately in every village. There should be no restriction placed for the transport and sale of agricultural input commodities, produce, vegetables etc.
  • State government should ensure that use of masks and physical distancing norms are maintained in public spaces. Its need should be widely disseminated. Gatherings, where it is not possible to maintain these norms, should not be allowed. If such a gathering is organised, then instead of inflicting any kind of police violence on the people, the gathering should be stopped and all participants should undergo paid RT-PCR test and buy masks.
  • The central government should immediately universalise the public distribution system for rural areas and urban slums so that all the left-out families can get food grains. The state government should activate all existing ‘dal-bhat kendras’ and increase numbers as per requirement. Local administration and ration dealers should be instructed that if any person asks for grain (with or without ration card), s/he should be immediately given free grains. Anganwadi centers should not be shut down. Cooked food/ dry ration should be provided for children, pregnant women and the elderly by ensuring physical distancing and masks in the Anganwadi centers.
  • The state government should provide free food grains and income support during the pandemic to daily laborers, rickshaw pullers, domestic workers, rag-pickers and sanitation workers.
  • The state government should put district-wise information related to migrant workers such as the number of workers who have gone outside as migrant workers specifying the state of destination etc. in the public domain. It is a matter of grave concern that till now only about 5800 workers have been registered under the Inter-State Migrant Labour Act (according to government data). The Hemant Soren government should also write letters to other states to ensure the welfare of the Jharkhandi laborers during the pandemic.
  • Public transport such as trains and buses should be fully operational along with ensuring sanitization, physical distance and use of mask. Increase the number of trains. Covid testing should be done at every bus stand and train station.
  • The central government should immediately use the PM Cares Fund to strengthen the public health system and publicize the information related to it. The state government should create a website related to the epidemic on which all government orders, notifications, helplines, daily testing and reporting of epidemics related to the epidemic, government expenditure etc. should be available.
  • To ensure adequate livelihood resources in the state, Jharkhand government should formulate a long-term strategy (so that people do not have to migrate in search of employment). Land bank policy should be repealed. Full ownership of natural resources, community claims under forest rights act and community control over forest resources should be granted without delay; also promotion of minor forest produce based livelihoods and farming, especially promotion of collective farming should be done.

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