In lockdown

Last-mile delivery of essential services must

In lockdown

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been widely hailed for taking the tough step of imposing a three-week lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus. The scarcity of testing kits, lack of hospital infrastructure, and rising number of cases of the virus infection left him with little choice. The WHO, too, has called it a decisive step. However, even as he made it clear in his address to the nation, the road ahead is a tough one, and the country will have to pay the price for this action. The cost of this disruption — economic and social — will be tremendous.

The government has assured the people that essential services will be maintained and that the supply of necessary provisions will not be affected. The beginning of the lockdown has exposed many gaps that will need to be addressed. People have been stranded on their way home because of the abrupt shutdown of public transportation; many places went without milk and vegetables; delivery boys of online services faced harassment; only some chemist shops were found open, yet people largely maintained discipline and coped with the situation.

Necessary fine-tuning has to be done fast. The government needs to take a view from the ground to understand the needs of the people and address them. Indians have shown remarkable ability to rise to the occasion, but they need clarity and empathy. Rules and provisions of relaxation need to be widely shared; home delivery, when promised, needs to be carried through; those in need of medicines and food must know where to get these, and for the large number of poor people employed in the informal sector who are living away from homes, food and shelter is a must. The task of managing the immediate fallout of the decision is huge and will need a tremendous effort from both the government and the citizens of the nation. Once this is tackled, then will come the broader issue of kick-starting the economy after the virus-induced hiatus.

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