Red Tape and Corruption from an Unplanned Lock-down
Remember demonetisation of currency? There are sharp parallels between how that decision and this lock-down decision are being handled. Demonetisation was hailed as a bold and path-breaking action, but ended in a whimper, with the poorest people, who had no black money, being tormented and the economy suffering a sharp setback. 
 
The 24th March decision to lock down India, with a four-hour notice before midnight, was also hailed as a bold move to break the COVID-19 chain. Soon enough, the blunders became evident—lack of discussion, clarity on implementation and absence of any provision for millions of people immobilised or rendered jobless in different parts of India. There will be a huge economic cost as well, and we don't even have the face-saver of having controlled the spread. Today, 22nd May, saw the highest single-day rise in cases in India with over 66,330 active COVID cases, 48,533 recoveries and 3,583 reported deaths. 
 
Experts, like Ramesh Thakur, former UN assistant secretary–general, are already asking “What will India’s balance be, between lives saved and sacrificed?” Mr Thakur writes. “COVID-19 was never a serious public health threat for India given the low number of cases and deaths in the initial phase... Instead of self-harm from the harsh lock-down, India could have invested to urgently upgrade the rickety public health system, ensuring permanent gains in lives saved,” he warned; but we weren’t listening.
 
As with demonetisation that had nothing to do with the poor, inter-state migrant labour had nothing to do with the virus which came to India mainly through affluent air-travellers. And, yet, after four phases of lock-down, it is the poorest Indians who are worst hit by COVID-19 and left to the mercy of the crumbling healthcare infrastructure in our cities. Even more galling is the political bickering, red-tape and harassment they have faced in their attempt to return to the safety of their homes, not to mention the government’s brazen claim, in the Supreme Court, that there are no migrant workers on our highways.
 
Even as lakhs of tired and disillusioned inter-state workers try to head home in the summer heat by foot or paying through their nose to get into trucks and scarce trains, the government has re-started air travel, signalling the most decisive step in lifting the lock-down. 
 
Where did we go wrong? What was our game plan? And, why are our responses to COVID so arbitrary?  Could this suffering and distress have been avoided? 
 
Consider this. As far back as 23 March 2020, this article, titled “Why Flattening the Curve is Overrated” was going viral for making some very sensible points that have become more acceptable today. 
  • Social distancing provides the illusion of control, not actual control, over the virus. 
  • Since there is no vaccine, flattening the curve, which was the primary argument for the lock-down (and to avoid burdening healthcare systems), only kicked the can down the road. It is not as though people were going to be inoculated during the lock-down to prevent the spread.
  • Nobody had thought about what the ‘successful lifting’ of lock-down would look like, especially when lifting of quarantine measures would lead to another wave of COVID spread and there may even be a third and fourth wave. 
  • The economic cost of the lock-down was far too huge to justify the action, even if it meant losing some lives. Also, more lives are lost in accidents and other illnesses every year and we have learnt to accept that. 
 
Many countries, with higher deaths than India’s, accepted this logic more quickly and began a partial lifting of curbs without significant negative impact. 
 
By mid-May, when Rajiv Bajaj (of Bajaj Auto) appeared on several channels asking these very questions, he was finally hailed for his boldness and not abused (on social media) as he would have been earlier. Mr Bajaj also made the point that companies, which were dependent on a supply-chain, needed clarity on how a future flare-up would be tackled before they start operations. 
 
Rent-seeking and Licence-raj
Most state governments are reeling from the economic impact of COVID, especially the massive loss of revenue from the taxes and cess on sale of liquor and petrol. Supply-chains for essential commodities are struggling. Doing business has turned into a nightmare, even for large companies. And rent-seeking has only increased. 
 
Industrialist Naushad Forbes has described it well in an article titled “Let’s not slide back to License Raj, we must not stifle the economy”. He wrote about delays due to red tape and permissions that were causing even those firms which have restarted operations to work at just 25% capacity.  
 
“We need passes for everything. We need a pass to bring people to work. A pass to source packing material. A pass to get the logistics providers in. Another pass to get a truck in and on its way to the customer. A pass even to take letter of credit documents to a bank, or product certificates to a boiler inspector. Each takes time, and is variably interpreted by each individual policeman,” he writes. 
 
Even couriers need to be tracked through each check-post in every district and there are the multiple passes and medical certificates required to bring migrant workers back to factories, he says. We have also documented the nightmarish experience of a domestic worker whose employer in Pune tried to send her back to her village within Maharashtra after obtaining all approvals when the lock-down was partially lifted on 18th May. 
 
Interestingly, none of this affects the affluent, whose salaries are intact and have smoothly switched to working-from-home, Zoom conferences, webinars and ordering online. Most of them can’t even foresee the consequences of broken supply-chains drying up the supply of basic necessities and pushing us back to the shortage economy of the 1970s and ’80s. 
 
Barring those who are directly affected, they are unaware of the frightening struggle to find a hospital bed, despite having insurance or the ability to pay for expensive private hospitals. 
 
Yes, reports about private hospitals inflating bills in Mumbai did make waves on social media and the Maharashtra government responded with a detailed circular listing and capping prices of a wide range of treatments and procedures. But the circular is riddled with inconsistencies and inexplicable exemptions when the state has no way to monitor or enforce the rules. All it means is that those with influence will have access to relatively affordable healthcare. 
 
I know of at least two doctors in Mumbai who had to desperately use their contacts to get some patients admitted into a private hospital on the very day the circular was issued. This is the situation for people seeking emergency help when all routine tests and procedures have been put on hold and where the biggest cause of death is not COVID but heart disease, strokes and cancer. 
 
A closer look at the circular and its exclusions suggests that the motivation was not to prevent people from being ripped off, but to protect the insurance industry. So the circular caps all charges and procedures that are paid by insurers but excludes PPEs (personal protection equipment) and N95 masks that are usually not covered under their policies. Does this mean that the state and the Centre tacitly support exploitative prices for protective equipment?
 
Readers of Moneylife already know of the rampant profiteering in the price of N95 masks and our public interest litigation, which is being heard by the Bombay High Court. 
 
What can be a bigger injustice than the government setting caps for airfare which benefits only the affluent, but doing nothing about the artificial shortage and exploitation in purchase of protective gear mainly used by healthcare workers? This, when the government’s misguided policies have created an unmitigated humanitarian catastrophe, damaged the economy and failed to control the spread of the disease. 

 

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    COMMENTS

    svrsama2015

    20 hours ago

    ...sums it up neatly. Apart from the economic and humanitarian costs, the entire episode (which still continues like a soap opera) raises serious doubts about our governance system, which is marked by arbitrariness, confusion, contradictions and complete lack of planning. What is surprising is that there is no public outrage, since the 'middle classes' which are the first ones to vocalize their discontents, have been frightened out of their wits . This is evident in their complete apathy towards the migrating humanity and their common lament that it is "these people" i.e. the "lower classes" who are responsible for the spread of the disease! Amazing.

    samintl

    21 hours ago

    Very rightly pointed out the facts. The rules are for the high end affluent people. We have gone into licence raj. the affluent have managed to get passes for their workers, the small people are denied.

    What was need to put cap on the air fares. Infact it should have been left open for the airlines. Affluent can shell out money. If travel is very urgent then let the money be shelled out. Would have kept the passenger traffic to minimum necessary.

    The small industry is reeling under the pressure of working capital crunch. the banks are being looked after well by not allowing or forcing them to give loans at a subsidised rates. the government is looking for the benefit of the affluent and not the small traders. Banks are being favoured.

    hari.krv

    23 hours ago

    I'm sorry Sucheta but your article contains the same classic disinformation strategy that government uses to justify its own misguided actions that you so strongly oppose. In that sense I feel sad that you and your publication have fallen hard in my opinion. I wish you will be more careful before trying to push the agenda of vested interests, be they in government or in opposition.

    suneel

    1 day ago

    Auther has written all this after 60days watching this issue . No one knew anything about the virus when lock down was clamped. Even now WHO says, people will have to learn with covid19.
    Just imagine, had India reached figure of US by now,would this write up have held its ground.

    Sudhir Jatar

    2 days ago

    Thought I would share this piece of information I read in an article from De Spiegel: https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/a-failed-deception-the-early-days-of-the-coronavirus-outbreak-in-wuhan-a-70effc1e-0200-440f-bb62-07cda261de11?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook#ref=rssIt says,
    "In March, an international team of epidemiologists calculated that the number of infections would have been three-times, seven-times or 18-times higher respectively if China had imposed the lockdown on Wuhan one, two or three weeks later than it did. It is difficult to imagine how many cases and deaths there might be in the world today had the country waited.
    But the same study estimates that the numbers would have been 66 percent, 86 percent or 95 percent lower respectively had the government closed off the city one, two or three weeks earlier than it did."

    S.SuchindranathAiyer

    2 days ago

    It has taken three months for the World to wake up to what I have been saying right since 12 weeks ago.

    Lock down was never a solution.

    It was a knee jerk reaction and, along with Aarogya Sethu, Modi’s cut and paste of Xi’s Wuhan Model. This (Communist)Totalitarian approach suited Modi as he is essentially a (Fascist) Totalitarian at heart and India, bankrupt in Governance, Science and Technology found imposing a Police State a convenient way without any dull pain between the ears that might be incurred by thinking or any sweat that might arise from his beloved, incompetent, corrupt Babus having to work.

    In other words "lock down" suited the Modi model of replacing Governance with Government and Government with technology so that he and his employees can keep gassing away and making money with a minimum of effort.

    Business and the economy are shattered. They were shattered by Modi and Jaitley well before the Wuhan virus, so China’s bio war provides Modi with a convenient excuse that is further buttressed by the Lock Down.

    But Modi and his government do not care because their entire approach since 2014 has been to pamper and expand Government and the fleas, ticks, leeches and bed bugs on Government pay roll at the expense of the productive and those outside State Pay Roll. They get their salaries and perks out of the State Deficit anyway while having to do even less work than usual.

    yerramr

    2 days ago

    Now a pass for passport too!!

    manmohan.shaw

    2 days ago

    A very narrow minded way to look at policy decisions from the author . Had the govt prioritised the economy more and not imposed lockdown the very same lobby would have clamoured that the govt is insensitive; what one needs to understand is that things work very differently in India than some foreign countries you have cited as an example . People are disobedient here , naturally. They won't follow guidelines yet need full protection and blame the govt if things go amiss . The lockdown gave time to scale up things . You don't talk about that Sucheta . No one said the lockdown will end the spread , it was only imposed to buy time in a country which already faces a lack of healthcare infra( thanks to all our previous governments) . The migrant issue is not a new one . Today suddenly the urban india seems to be full of empathy for them (when they have stopped getting their services) but did not say a thing all this while . Moreover its the responsibility of the state governments to take care of their migrants . The centre has allowed trains to run but no state government wants to take back its migrants for fear of spread and hence have not issued permission for shramik trains . And this is why migrants of those states have been forced to walk back home . There is a reason why the Indian strtucture is a federal one - the centre cannot be blamed for everything. Its easy to sit in your couch and pin an article with all negativity but it takes courage to applaud and unite people in these trying times ,!

    vinodsampat

    2 days ago

    IN GOVERNMENT MANY A TIMES THE LEFT HAND DOES NOT KNOW WHAT THE RIGHT HAND IS DOING.

    SUCHETA I HAVE AN INTERESTING VIDEO OF A DOCTOR FROM AMERICA IN GUJARATI ON COVID IT ALLEGES BILL GATES AND WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION PRAISING INDIA FOR THE COVID HANDLING BUT IS SILENT ON THE ACTIVITIES OF COUNTRIES LIKE SWEDEN AND TAIWAN WHO WERE / ARE HARDLY INFECTED BY COVID. IT GOES ON TO MAKE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST BILL GATES AND WHO.

    ANOTHER POINT IS THE MEDICAL MEDICINE MANUFACTURERS ARE CREATING A HYPE SO THAT MORE AND MORE MEDICINES ARE SOLD. NOW DO WE HAVE DATA OF PERSONS SUFFERING FROM MALARIA, TB ETC., AT THE TIME OF COVID? ALL THE FIGURES ARE LITERALLY MERGED INTO THE ILL EFFECTS OF COVID IS MY GUESS?

    MASS HANDLING OF PEOPLE IN BUSES , TRUCKS ETC. WHAT DOES RESEARCH SAY ABOUT TRANSMISSION OF DISEASE DUE TO MASS MOVEMENT? IN FACT THE VIDEO STATES THAT THE EFFECT OF THE POLICIES LEADS TO PATIENTS GETTING DEPRESSION AND THE TYPE OF MEDICINES GIVEN FOR COVID IS NOTHING BUT VITAMINS, SUNLIGHT TREATMENT AND MEDICINES TO BOOST ONES SYSTEM.

    WHY DOUBLE STANDARDS WHEN IT COMES TO FLIGHTS. WHY ARE THEY NOT BEING QUARANTINED? JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE RICH?

    YOU HAVE RIGHTLY POINTED OUT RED TAPE, SPEED MONEY IS THE NORM. I KNOW A FEW FAMILIES WENT TO THEIR BUNGALOWS OUT OF MUMBAI. CLASSIC EXAMPLE IS THE DEWAN'S CASE PATRONISED BY SENIOR POLITICIANS WHO TOO WAS LEFT OUT WITH A WARNING.

    REGARDS,

    ADV. VINOD SAMPAT

    alok.asthana

    2 days ago

    In any case,lack of good contact tracing makes the whole rationale of a lock-down a non-starter. But, then, we are dealing with Sriman Modi. Why expect anything different? He simply has to be sent back to Gujarat, where they love him. Please go.

    REPLY

    valentine.barboza

    In Reply to alok.asthana 2 days ago

    I completely agree.. this man has implemented all policies without an experts advise. Demonetisation, lockdown, the statue of Vallabhai Patel costing thousands of crores, not giving a lead time to allow migrants to leave, bad government hospitals, uneducated state leaders, and this list could go in and on... we Indians need an educated leader.. and then he wants bullet train.. he should travel In a virar local at 8 .. am.. he does not want to implement a one child policy...his vote bank.. what a shame !!

    gopaliyer1950

    2 days ago

    Can any seasoned Economist eatimate per day cost of lockdown at country level

    gopaliyer1950

    2 days ago

    A very well articulated detailed article.
    A. Do agree on. 1.Govt could have considered effects of lockdown and taken more time instead of 4 hr notice. 2.Migrant workers issue could have been better managed.They have taken the burnt of lockdown. 3.Shortage of hospital befs in Mumbai has been addressed by the state government by asking patient to be stay put at their homes. 4.Private hospitals are fleeing the patient even with the government circular which is not a comprehensive one. 5.Nexus of Insurance companies with government is indeed sad.so also governments hand in free pricing of protective equipment not within scope of insurance.
    6.Sickening to note torture suffered by establishment who chose to operate at 25 % capacity

    B.Do not agree on the so called affluent WFH with salary in tact.They have also taken salary cut up to 30 % and in some case up to 50%

    richard.f.sequeira

    2 days ago

    Very well researched and written article. Lockdown without building hospital capacity, testing, and access to PPEs for all at a fair price is just kicking the can down the street.

    Ramesh Popat

    2 days ago

    all done is not that bad at least!

    suketu

    3 days ago

    Corona might kill 20,000 people in India.Starvation and migrants torture due to govt wl kill 100 times more at 20 lakhs atleast in India.

    Minimum, maximum fare structure for air travel set: Minister
    Domestic passenger flight services commencing from Monday will have a fixed minimum and maximum fare structure for different routes, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Thursday.
     
    While detailing the plans to re-start domestic operations, he said the step has been taken under the special prevailing circumstances that have come about due to the pandemic.
     
    Under the new fare structure, air routes are divided into seven sections based on travel time. Each such section has its minimum and maximum fares.
     
    Accordingly, Delhi-Mumbai ticket price has been fixed at Rs 3,500-Rs 10,000 for three months from May 25 to August 24.
     
    The minister further said the limited passenger flight operations of about one-third capacity of summer schedule would be permitted to operate between metro cities from May 25.
     
    This capacity might be ramped up in the subsequent time period.
     
    Furthermore, during the briefing, it was disclosed that there is no quarantine requirement for air crew operating domestic flights due to shorter duration of these operations.
     
    The briefing was held after Ministry of Civil Aviation came out with detailed guideline for airlines and passengers.
     
    The guidelines advised "Vulnerable" persons, such as the very elderly, pregnant ladies, and passengers with health issues to avoid air travel.
     
    Besides, it said that no physical check-in counters would be allowed at the airport.
     
    "Only those passengers with confirmed web check-in shall be allowed to enter the airport," the guidelines said.
     
    Additionally, the guidlines said the passengers would be required to certify their status in terms of coronavirus infection through the Aarogya Setu app or a self-declaration form.
     
    "The passenger shall not travel if he or she is staying in a containment zone. Also, they should not travel if they have been tested positive for Covid-l9. The passengers are expected to certify the status of their health through the Aarogya Setu app or a self-declaration form," the guidelines said.
     
    If a passenger, who is not permitted to fly, undertakes an air journey, he or she shall be liable for penal action, as per the guidelines.
     
    Further, passengers will have to wear protective gear, or a face mask before entering the terminal as per the prevailing requirement and he/she will con tinue to wear the mask thoughout the joumey.
     
    During transit to airport, the passenger should take all precautions to prevent infection.
     
    On the luaggae part, the passenger would be entitled to carry maximum of one hand baggage and one checked-in baggage as per the specifications by the airline concerned.
     
    In addition, state-run Airports Authority of India has advised passengers to reach airport 2 hours prior to departure.
     
    Its standard operating procedures (SoPs) also advised passengers to install the Aarogya Setu mobile app.
     
    All passengers will be required to go in for a thermal check before entering the terminal, the SoP said.
     
    India has allowed airlines to re-commence domestic passenger flight operations in a calibrated manner from Monday, May 25.
     
    Passenger air services were suspended for both scheduled domestic and international flights since March 25, due to the imposition of the nationwide lockdown in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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    COMMENTS

    samintl

    21 hours ago

    What is the great need to make people travel by air by providing them reduced pricing. Let competition decide . Government should not interfere and should not fix the pricing. The affluent class will travel by air and they have the capacity to pay.

    higher the fares, low will be the traffic and this is what is required today. Yes keeping the required measures to curtail spread of the virus is important. Thats what authorities should ensure and open the air travel. Let the people travel at their own cost.

    yerramr

    2 days ago

    Rent seeking becomes rampant when cost of regulation exceeds cost of avoidance.

    People in containment zone not allowed air travel
    As domestic flight services resume on May 25 with one-third of capacity, it will not allow people staying in containment zones to board a flight as they will not be eligible for travel.
     
    The Ministry of Civil Aviation on Thursday came up with a detailed guideline for the airlines and passengers, where it said passengers would have to certify their status in terms of coronavirus infection through the Aarogya Setu app or a self-declaration form.
     
    "The passenger shall not travel if he/she is staying in a containment zone. Also,they should not travel if they have been tested positive for COVID-l9. The passengers are expected to certify the status of their health through the Aarogya Setu app or a self-declaration form," it said.
     
    If a passenger, who is not permitted to fly, undertakes an air joumey, he or she shall be liable for penal action, as per the guidelines.
     
    Further, passengers will have to wear protective gear, or a face mask before entering the terminal as per the prevailing requirement and he/she will continue to wear the mask thoughout the joumey.
     
    During transit to airport, the passenger should take all precautions to prevent infection.
     
    In the initial stage passenger would be entitled to carry maximum of one hand baggage and one checked-in baggage as per the specifications by the airline of his travel.
     
    The ministry also said that limited passenger flight operations of about one-third of capacity would be permitted to operate on May 25.
     
    In a general set of guidelines for passengers and stakeholders issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Centre said: "On the day of commencement, limited operations (about l/3rd) would be permitted."
     
    "Further augmentation of flights will be done in a calibrated manner."
     
    The guidelines advised "Vulnerable" persons, such as very elderly, pregnant ladies, passengers with health issues to avoid air travel.
     
    Furthermore, it detailed that no physical check-in counters would be allowed at the airport.
     
    "Only those passengers with confirmed web check-in shall be allowed to enter the airport," it said.
     
    Besides, the Centre advised the airlines to adhere to the lower and upper limits of fares prescribed by the Ministry during the period of COVID-19 pandemic.
     
    The guidelines comes a day after Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Wednesday said: "Domestic civil aviation operations will recommence in a calibrated manner from Monday, 25th May 2020."
     
    Ever since the imposition of the nationwide lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in the country on March 25, passenger air services were suspended for both scheduled domestic and international flights.
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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