Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2020 > Letter to Readers - May 16, 2020 – Lockdown Edition no8

Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 22, New Delhi, May 16, 2020

Letter to Readers - May 16, 2020 – Lockdown Edition no8

Sunday 17 May 2020

While the fourth tranche of economic relief package has been announced by the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the Capital today, a day after her announcement of the thirdd tranche focusing on agriculture and allied activities, the Supreme Court of India declined to entertain a PIL seeking directions that district magistrates (DMs) identify, shelter, feed the migrant workers and provide free transport to them, as well as for those on the move among them, asserting that it was for the respective States to take action in this regard. The Supreme Court judges wondered how the Apex Court could stop the migrants from walking, asking: “How can anybody stop them when they sleep on the railway tracks?”. The petitioner lawyer had referred to the incident of 16 migrant workers being run over by a goods train when they were sleeping on the railway track on May 8; he further pointed to the death of 8 migrant workers in a road accident near Guna in Madhya Pradesh. “Let the States decide” in the matter, one of the judges in the Apex Court panel told the advocate petitioner. This was a clear manifestation of the Apex Court’s attitude on such a major issue.

The severe national lockdown lasting over 50 days due to Covid 19 pandemic, has caused immense economic distress to India’s economically poorer strata of citizens —mostly labourers in factories and migrant casual workers in small businesses and services economy who are now jobless— but the callousness of political elites and decision makers in addressing the practical hardships (needs of food, housing and transport), mocks at the idea of equal citizenship rights and national solidarity.
The disruption due to the lockdown has further weakened the economy which was already faltering in the past years causing unemployment and pushing more and more people into the sub-contracted, outsourced lowly paid jobs in the gig economy outside the purview of legally recognised formal sector with provisions for pensions, social security coverage and health insurance - accident compensations etc.
Now with factories and businesses being allowed to re-open operations, eight State governments i.e. Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar and Punjab have taken advantage of the lockdown situation and have increased the legal daily working hours from eight hours to twelve hours through an executive order in violation of the Factories Act.

The near-total suspension of labour laws for a period of three years in all officially registered factories and businesses in UP is a shocking demonstration of how class drives state policy in a country whose Constitution still swears by equality and socialism. Who gave the idea to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh to drop all constitutionally valid Central and State legislation protecting labour rights at a time when the labouring poor are in deep waters. The Allahabad High Court in response to a petition filed on May 15, has nullified the UP Govt notification which had annulled all labour laws and extended the workday from 8 hrs to 12 hrs. The Allahabad High Court has restored the 8 hr workday in the formal sector for now.

A joint platform of Central Trade Unions has called for a nationwide protest day against the anti-worker and anti-people policies of the government on May 22 2020.

o o

A few days ago the Prime Minister, in his national televised address spoke of the need for India to be ‘self-reliant’ …. Who will want to contest that? Yes, self-reliance is definitely a desirable goal. It is pretty embarrassing that India, which supplies doctors and nurses to the hospitals of the world and has been supplying medical equipment and medicines, has had to import elementary personal protection equipment such as gloves and masks for health workers. It is also importing the test-kits. Twenty years ago India used to produce most of its active pharmaceutical ingredients, but now it is dependent on imports, largely from China, and its big pharma industry makes a large range of generic drugs. In the post-1990 liberalisation phase, India has been dismantling, selling off many of its public sector vaccine and drug factories, and now 80 per cent of India’s requirement of vaccines is met by private firms that sell 10 times the price of public sector producers which produced very cheap drugs. This pandemic is the time to build a public health infrastructure. Public health activists in India have been campaigning for years for the state to expand public health spending.

Scientists and scholars are now convinced of the spread of diseases globally and its link with Deforestation - ecological destruction and emergence of massive mono-cultures. We have been seeing environmental destruction across our country for the past decades, the rivers are polluted, the air is unbreathable, the forests are being cleared and the mountains being cut for more motorised roads. The wildlife is fleeing where it can. But these are issues that are taken up by ecologists only. Unfortunately public health is not seen as directly connected with our environment and our food and water supply etc. Progressive movements must learn to connect the dots. Studies show the patterns of deforestation associated with the recent outbreaks of other coronaviruses, SARS-CoV [1] and MERS-CoV [2], as well as other animal-borne diseases, including Ebola, dengue fever. There is much evidence to suggest that this current COVID19 pandemic is part of a larger global trend. . . . Militarised security is not going to get us out of the problem, a socially conscious society concerned about health and ecology must put pressure on policymakers and political parties to help stop the destruction of the environment that is connected with the spread of diseases.

o o

We offer our sincere homage to several notable personalities whom we have lost in the last few days, they include the noted expert in Indo Russian relations Professor Hari Vasudevan of Calcutta University, eminent sociologist Professor Yogendra Singh of the JNU, New Delhi, distinguished scholar, freedom fighter, literary figure Professor Anisuzzaman from Bangladesh, and a prominent writer and novelist Debesh Roy of West Bengal.

May 16, 2020 The Editor

[1ccoronavirus, SARS-CoV-2

[2MERS-CoV was identified in 2012 as the cause of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)

Notice: The print edition of Mainstream Weekly is now discontinued & only an online edition is appearing. No subscriptions are being accepted