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Pandemic restrictions in lieu of lockdown and the working class of West Bengal


By Harasankar Adhikari
Omicron (the latest variant of the Corona virus) spiked its wing and the infection rate shortly became high to higher. The government failed to take proper steps to arrange the required health set-up after the 1st and 2nd waves. We see the government was very casual and its efforts are limited within some restrictions. What would be the effect to be seen? This is the motive of the government? It had one solution: pandemic restrictions (a modified alternative step to lockdown).
The government of West Bengal declared pandemic restrictions to curb the third wave from January 15, 2022. During the day, there is no such restriction. But it is more prudent to restrict the plying of local trains. But a huge number of populations absolutely depend on the local train for their livelihood. Surprisingly, the opening of ‘panshala’(liquor shops) has no problem. The only issue is that no “pathshala” (educational institution) can be established.
From the time of the first lockdown period, governments, especially the government of West Bengal, have taken several relief measures, from rationing to direct cash transfers, to cope with this pandemic situation. But it was only restricted to distributing food grains, and that was also insufficient. The working classes were the worst sufferers because their daily earnings were the only way to manage their minimal selves. During the prolonged period of lockdown and during unlocking, they were jobless. They had no work and no income. To manage their thick and thin situations, they borrowed money from individual money lenders with security deposits (especially gold ornaments, etc.) at high interest, and they are still unable to recover it for several reasons, like low wages, fewer working days, and others.
A study was conducted to learn about the credit of daily wage earners in Kolkata. About 100 daily labourers aged 20 to 40 years of both sexes were selected purposively. They were mainly construction workers, domestic help, and rickshaw pullers, etc. They were mainly daily commuters to Kolkata from various parts of South 24 Parganas. According to their reports, it has been reported that about 60% of them borrowed Rs. 15000-20000 and 20% of them borrowed above Rs. 20000. They had to pay monthly interest (sometimes at the rate of 12% or more) and they did not get any chance to recover a small part of their loan because of their low earnings and no extra work from which they usually expected to earn a good amount.
They shared, ‘we do not know how to repay because the working conditions are poor’. Rina, a domestic help, said, ‘I have lost my job in two households. My earnings are now 1/3rd of my earlier income. I took a loan of Rs. 20000.00 to manage our daily expenses. The government’s dole is not enough. Governments offered some kilogrammes of rice and wheat. Is it enough to survive? I mortgaged my gold ornaments made for my daughter’s marriage. It may forfeit if this situation continues. ’
This pandemic is an opportunity for private money lenders. Further, ‘Mahajani System’ raises its wing. Whatever the government assures loans from banks is a difficult matter, and it is not for the working classes. It has been observed that this pandemic crisis has an adverse affect on people at the bottom of the pyramid. The government is more active in pushing the working classes into difficult situations. It is doing everything for the rich. Small businesses have also ceased to exist.
Will the government adopt the proper policy to save the majority? The government should immediately conduct a study to determine the financial status of the majority. No amount of data puzzling would be sufficient to solve the majority’s problem.

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