In the midst of the uncertainty over lifting the lockdown, total or partial, quite the most rational suggestion advanced at Monday’s videoconference between the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers can be credited to Mr Naveen Patnaik. Why Mamata Banerjee was made to cool her heels for three hours ~ without uttering a word ~ need not detain us here.
Beyond the maritime adventure of migrants sailing from Chennai to their home turf in coastal Ganjam district on a fishing boat must lie the imperative to formulate what the Chief Minister of Odisha calls a “pan-India standard operating procedure” for the evacuation of migrants and those generally stranded.
This is the dire humanitarian issue that has emerged since the morning of 25 March, when the first phase of the lockdown began. It is painful to reflect that neither the Centre nor the states have had the nerve to address the privation of the migrants.
The homeward trek from Karnataka to Rajasthan, the restive crowds at Bandra and Surat stations, and the fiveday journey across the choppy seas from Chennai to Odisha are among the horrific manifestations of the privation.
Alone among his counterparts in the state capitals, the Odisha Chief Minister has utilised the opportunity to articulate the necessity of organising transport, border transit control, and quarantine facilities for the hundreds of thousands crying out to return to their families.
Mr Patnaik’s spirited presentation was still more conspicuous for its refreshing contrast to the Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar’s stand that his government would not even bring back the students who have been stranded in Kota (Rajasthan) until the Centre frames “clear-cut evacuation guidelines” for all states to follow.
This is a remarkably insensitive stance on the part of the JD(U) leader. The administration in Patna has accorded the short shrift to the stranded students ever since Yogi Adityanath’s government in Uttar Pradesh arranged for a fleet of buses to transport students from Kota to Lucknow. The Bihar CM never quite approved the humane gesture of the ascetic from Gorakhpur.
It is a measure of the enormity of the crisis that the migrant helpline, put in place by Rajasthan, received no fewer than 28,000 calls within eight hours of the number going viral. The primary significance of Mr Patnaik’s suggestion to the Prime Minister is the stress on a coordinated effort involving the Centre and all the states.
The migrants represent a cross-section of states and a coordinated strategy ought to have been formulated at least a month ago… in parallel to the treatment of coronavirus afflictions.
A message has been conveyed to the Centre and not least by the Supreme Court on Monday, underlining the imperative of “coordinated action’ between the Centre and the states. This is no less critical than the revival of a stuttering economy. Federalism is on test. This must rank as the major upshot of the fourth video-conference.