There was a collective sigh of relief on Friday morning over the West Bengal government’s eleventh-hour decision to withdraw the second successive lockdown on Saturday in the face of demands by candidates for this Sunday’s NEET examination for admission to medical colleges.
Such whimsy borders on tokenism, for travel schedules thrown out of kilter by the earlier announcement cannot always be revised at such short notice. It is fervently to be hoped that the charade of lockdowns is over, as hinted at by the Chief Minister.
Reports suggest that similar appeals were made by Alimuddin Street, and Mamata Banerjee may well have found merit in the submission of the CPI-M leadership. If indeed the rate of afflictions is the benchmark to evaluate the effectiveness of a lockdown, the seven lockdowns in August and the proposed three in September have been quite ineffective.
Altogether, a cruel irony in the season of the pandemic, if ever there was one. Indeed, on Thursday evening ~ on the eve of the lockdown rerun ~ Bengal suffered the steepest single-day surge till date, with the afflictions far above the forbidding 3000-mark. The state registered 3107 fresh cases and as many as 53 deaths in the course of the day.
For more than a month, such grim statistics have been a distressing curtain-raiser to every lockdown. There ought to be an incisive prognosis of the relentless surge in the periphery of Kolkata despite the fact that the number of containment zones has come down to one… from 38 in the month of May. A lockdown is a feeble response to the forbidding enormity of the surge.
It is hard not to wonder whether the unstated objective is to give the organised sector a three-day-long weekend ~ either Saturday, Sunday and Monday as it was last week, or Friday, Saturday and Sunday as initially planned this week. With 12th being a second Saturday, bank employees can rest assured of a three-day break in the manner of state and central employees.
Withdrawal of the second lockdown, therefore, shall not impinge on the respite schedule. In parallel to the rhetorical discourse on life and livelihood, banking operations in Bengal were virtually disrupted in recent weeks… with the timing curtailed from six hours to four ~ 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ~ and regularisation of the five-day week throughout the month.
These are matters that come within the remit of the Reserve Bank of India, and not the state administration. And yet, Nabanna had its way. Addressing the issue is more than a mere administrative intervention. The medical fraternity must of necessity be involved. Regretfully, since 25 March this segment has been accorded a relatively secondary rating in the overall construct.
No less a matter of concern is the wasted year in terms of education, with schools, colleges and universities closed for close to six months. Little or no effort has been made to regurgitate the search of learning. The state government’s frequent declarations on lockdowns are reminiscent of the frequent bandhs during the peak of the Singur and Nandigram movements (2006-07).