As Migrant crisis worsens, government agencies raise doubts over efficiency of lockdown

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As the second phase of the lockdown nears its end, Indians wait with bated breath as to whether the lockdown will be extended or there will be some relaxation to the general populace. Indians have been sitting under lockdown for more than a month but it is still not clear whether this restriction on movement is having any effect on the number of infections that are rising everyday.

The central government put out a study that painted a rather rosy picture of the manner in which the disease will play out in India. VK Paul, NITI Aayog member and head of a committee on medical management, told the media that the Narendra Modi government’s national lockdown had dramatically slowed the rate of transmission. As a result, the growth rate of new cases has slowed.

Moreover, the study went on to make a remarkable projection. It showed that the number of new cases would start dropping sharply after May 3. By May 16, India would have no new cases.

However, the union government provided little context to explain how it has arrived at this projection. To make matters worse, an independent member of the same committee itself was of the opinion that the projection seems “highly unlikely.” In fact, this optimistic projection contradicts other data put out by the union government itself.

Dun & Bradstreet India Chief Economist Arun Singh said that the lockdown has led to near halt in manufacturing units and left millions of short-term migrant and casual workers without jobs. Moreover, depressed global demand has led to a collapse in global commodity markets.

“The collapse in global demand is depleting the savings and increasing the debt levels of households, corporates and the governments and will most likely create a channel for a new round of debt crisis,” Singh said.

As Covid-19 rages around the world, governments are wrestling with the trade-off between lives and livelihoods. At the same time, compared with rich countries, India has an even harder time affording the luxury of keeping its economy in suspended animation.

“We need to ensure a safe, phased and organized reopening,” says Naushad Forbes, a former president of the Confederation of Indian.

There has been no official declaration of lockdown extension by the Central government, Punjab becomes the first state that has extended its lockdown beyond May 3, the extension has been done for two more weeks. In a recent announcement, the state has said that there will however be some relaxation for areas that are not in the red zones.

As the migrants are returning to their native states, the challenge of handling the logistics of registering, screening, transporting and quarantining lakhs of returnees appears to weigh down states like Bihar and UP, which between them have close to 42 lakh people waiting to return.

Bihar deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi demanded that the Centre run special trains to ferry migrant workers and students back to their homes. Whether Centre responds to the plight of stranded migrants and students remains to be seen.

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