There may be some substance in the distinguished economist, Kaushik Basu’s very pertinent query as to whether a lockdown is really necessary, given that thousands also die of malaria and tuberculosis. Maybe it is and a renewed discourse need not detain us here. The measure is not uniquely West Bengal; it has been imposed virtually all over the world.
Suffice it to register that as the state gears up for Phase 6 of the month-long serial lockdowns from July 1, the observance of the extreme measure calls for reflection on the part of the government and the people. The assurance on more buses and resumption of Metro services in July will of course boost connectivity, but it does fly in the face of the certitudes of the enforced closure and periodically extended vacation.
The callous indifference on the part of the administration and the people persists despite the fact that 475 positive cases were reported in the state on Thursday, and tragically eleven deaths on a single day. Truth to tell, it has been a fizzle in the state for the past two months, reducing the measure to irrelevance, as in many other states.
The crowds and chock-a-block traffic on CR Avenue, for instance, every evening are not dissimilar from the annual frenzy that grips the city during the Pujas. With people moving around without facemasks, the lockdown, at least in Kolkata, is observed in the breach. People have been defiant and almost wilfully so, and the administration has not been stringent enough.
Ergo, extension of the lockdown simply cannot inspire confidence not the least because it is a farcical exercise. A more responsible response to a deadly affliction is the least that can be expected. There has been an overdose of tinkering, far too little of assertive action. The implementation of the lockdown, if there was to be one, ought to have been far tighter than has been manfest.
The tangential involvement of the medical fraternity in administrative action has been yet another red herring across the trail. However, a decidedly critical development that has happened in parallel was Wednesday’s all-party meeting to assess the situation in the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan that devastated the state on 20 May, when Covid-19 was at its peak.
More importantly, the gesture on the part of the Chief Minister has been warmly welcomed across the political spectrum. An all-party panel is to be constituted to probe the irregularities in relief distribution, in itself a blot on the administration. And there was an element of pregnant symbolism when Mamata Banerjee invited the CPI-M, preeminently Dr Surya Kanta Mishra, to head the panel.
With the party turning down the offer, it devolved on Trinamul’s Partha Chatterjee to helm the committee. It is fervently to be hoped that it will furnish a report that is as incisive as it is objective, one that will be advanced both to the Union and the state government.