Nowadays, the most challenging question is whether it is possible to permit mobility of workers from their house to the workplace to commence production & distribution of goods and services in selected sectors after the three-week-long nationwide lockdown period.
The major concern behind this is not to protect the predicted fall in the increase in national income in the current year, at least not till the corona-infected persons’ curve begins flattening out. The critical concern for the upcoming two months cannot be anything but protecting human life. The threat to life comes from the pandemic entering the 3rd phase with the possibility of the number of community infected persons going up to millions in India that has extremely inadequate health care services, both for testing and treatment, particularly in terms of coverage.
The threat to life is the same serious for people not having sufficient purchasing power to buy food. Other means of survival since 15% of the workforce has income or pension security & the inadequacy in the scope of the state machinery to guarantee the minimum necessities to the rest workforce is becoming evident, at the central, state & district level.
The vast awareness has been created regarding the process, vulnerabilities, symptoms & precaution for the COVID-19 pandemic, with the main focus in keeping social distance. Also, plans have been made for increasing the scope & coverage of the medical facilities to look after the infected persons. Unluckily, there is no any benefit of this lockdown in any such detailed planning, resulting in most workplaces being locked up, workers were driven out or facing an imminent threat of unemployment and the migrants setting out for hard journeys back home in crowded compartments, trucks, buses and even on foot without any consideration of their health, in which some has lost their lives also.
This lockdown impacts differently at various levels of administration, general society and every individual. Notwithstanding the injunction of staying at home, several civil society groups, community groups and individuals have ventured, not always with adequate precautionary steps, to reach out to the poor, elderly, physically challenged and the quarantined people.
Unluckily, there has been no stipulation of a framework or guidelines for safe community assistance, whereby very more substantial engagement of civil society could have been institutionalized.
Where necessary services have been defined and exempted from lockdown outlines, unorganized workers that constitute the backbone of all these services & those who must walk long distances to avail the sustenance things given by the state govt have not been included in their fold. This lockdown has led to an economic emergency.
Shortly but a calibrated resumption of production focused economic movement is required to arrest any irreversible modification. It is must be considered to open up of industries & businesses in some identified areas in the cities allowing for a gradual resumption of product. Travell of workers can be operationalized throughout partial lockdown via a system of electronic passes will enable them to travel from their residence to workplace and return within a specified period of the day except those residing in or nearby the hotspots zones.
For operationalization of the plan of safe exchange of workers, it will be essential to ensure their safety along with that of those involved in the transportation movement. Transit to and from workplaces could be organized by pre-authorized buses or four-wheeler vehicles for e-permit holding employees by the company among specific destinations.
Companies would have to make a small payment to the state for every vehicle to meet the extra expenses of the supervision and control. Employees opting for commutation through self-driven cars can be provided e-permits by their companies on payment of a certain fee to the state. Likewise, app-based and regular taxi and auto-rickshaw assistance will be issued authorization to take the e-permit holders from the residences to places of job and back.
Each trip will have to be logged into a purpose-built application on their mobile device with the e-permit ID of the traveller. All the vehicle operators will need to maintain hygiene in the vehicles and log in disinfection actions after every trip. Being found away from the permitted travel route or beyond specified hrs will be an offence. Allowing taxis & auto-rickshaws to run under the permit scheme will enable a critical number of drivers to get back in their regular earnings.
People without personal cars & not able to afford personalized transport, e-permits could be published at a low cost by the employing companies, for those at least bus services would be provided. These will be the workers under the threshold income. The permits will enable them to avail the advantages offered by public agencies during the pandemic right at the workplaces.
The employers can take the advantages like cooked food, weekly rations, etc., for this section of workers like the casual labour and those on short-duration contract & distribute at the places of work following the institutional supervision of public agencies and civil society. This will increase the employer-employee relationship that would be a decisive factor for the future growth of the company. Moreover, this will assist the migrants in staying back in the cities and motivating those who have moved for their native places in fear, to return, particularly after the harvesting season.
As the workers of a company would stay together through the day under the standard safety measures executed by the company, there would be less community interaction.
It will not be as tough to ensure adequate distancing between passengers when there are very less no of passengers. Such buses will be cleaned before and in between their respective trips & run with windows open. These will take travellers with their e-passes travelling within fixed points of origin & destination at standard fare, without settling on permitted traveller density and distancing conditions. The fees collected from the workers for the e-permits will be utilised to repay for the losses incurred through the public transport system.
All the drivers and other private taxis, auto-rickshaws & buses cars will have to have the safety kits and observe hygienic and medical facilities mandatory for their personal safety and that of the commuters. They will run under the supervision of police who will ensure compliance on the part of both the provider of transport services and the commuters.
Remain the fear that the lockdowns ease will make it impossible to monitor or control in India enters massively into the 3rd stage that is the community spread of the pandemic. The capacity to remain in control cannot be lost sight of through the authorities. For that, the strength to track & monitor the consequence of the mobility relaxations and appropriate corrective steps holds the key—the protocol conferred above addresses this issue. The catalyst needed is a sterile transport system that is wholly tracked to lessen the danger associated with lifting the crippling lockdowns. As a matter of abundant caution, a practical approach will be to open priority sector industries & businesses. Relaxations can be progressively enhanced.
(This article first appeared on Live Mint and authored by Amitabh Kundu, Bobby John, H. S. Sidhu. Amitabh Kundu is distinguished fellow, Research and Information System for Developing Countries; Booby John is managing director, Æquitas Consulting Pvt. Ltd; and H.S. Sidhu is a business consultant)