Mumbai: As Maharashtra enters another lockdown to contain the second wave of Covid-19, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is adopting a more inclusive approach at decision-making, unlike last year, when he was accused of being unilateral in his handling of the pandemic.
The Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government Tuesday imposed lockdown-like orders for 15 days in Maharashtra, stopping short of terming it a full lockdown, as the state bears the brunt of the second Covid wave.
The restrictions came into force 8 pm Wednesday.
Over the past one month, on several occasions, the CM warned the public about the possibility of a lockdown. Apart from this, he held a dozen consultations with stakeholders and tried to build a political consensus. This time, the CM has also announced a relief package of over Rs 5,000 crore for population groups that are likely to be the most impacted by the restrictions.
Last year, meanwhile, Thackeray faced criticism for relying too much on the bureaucracy around him and not holding enough consultations even with the Shiv Sena’s partners in the MVA alliance, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
The CM’s conduct this time has drawn praise from the Shiv Sena, which he leads, as well as allies, with the former citing the novelty of Covid-19 last year to address the criticism lobbed at Thackeray, a first-time Chief Minister.
The opposition BJP, however, is not impressed.
Lockdown then and now
Last year, as Covid was spreading through the state, the Maharashtra government announced a lockdown on 20 March, to last until the end of the month. This was four days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi put in place a nationwide lockdown — effective from midnight on 24 March.
The state and the central lockdown announcements were both sudden and strict, and caught the public unawares. One of the most grievous fallouts was the hordes of migrant labourers left jobless in big metropolitan cities without any means of transport to return home to villages. Thousands upon thousands subsequently started the journey on foot.
The central government’s relief scheme, the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, was announced on 26 March.
The lockdown — initially scheduled to end 14 April — was eventually extended till the end of May, after which state economies started opening up gradually.
This year, the CM made it a point to ensure the lockdown wasn’t sudden. The first time Thackeray raised the alarm on another possible lockdown was on 20 February, after Maharashtra reported over 6,000 new Covid cases for the second day in a row.
He repeated the warning on at least two more occasions through March and April before declaring the lockdown this week after daily Covid cases in the state crossed 50,000.
Over the past month, Thackeray held online meetings with representatives of restaurants, hotel owners, cinema and television serial producers, industrialists, private hospitals, members of the Covid task force, district collectors and divisional commissioners. He also spoke to journalists who have specialised in the health sector for their suggestions on improving the infrastructure.
Looking to build a political consensus in tackling Covid, Thackeray held an all-party meeting, including opposition leaders, on 10 April, three days before the lockdown announcement.
During the first wave, Thackeray had called for a meeting of political leaders across parties only in May, more than a month after the lockdown was imposed.
The fresh lockdown comes with a relief package from the Maharashtra government, which promises free meals (under an existing state government scheme, Shiv Bhojan, for subsidised meals), besides 3 kg wheat and 2 kg rice free of cost, to those covered under the national food security scheme, Rs 1,500 to registered construction workers, street vendors and autorickshaw owners, as well as financial assistance to tribals.
It also allows more exemptions, such as permitting all modes of public transport to be operational for employees of essential services, and street vendors to operate for takeaway parcels. All construction activity has been allowed to continue if the company in charge provides labourers with accommodation close to the site.
The decision on whether to allow the movement of personal staff such as drivers and domestic workers has been left to local authorities, and the government has not closed borders. Deliveries from liquor shops, which help bring excise revenue, and restaurants have been permitted.
Talking about the lockdown last year, Shiv Sena MLA Bhaskar Jadhav said “the state’s directions were overridden by the central government anyway”.
“The PM did not consult anyone or have discussions about the consequences. He did not think through what will happen to migrants. The lockdown kept on extending and all of us bore the brunt of it in some way or the other,” he added. Uddhav Thackeray, he said, “has taken all of this experience into consideration and tried to think about how to minimise the impact of the lockdown on people’s livelihoods”.
“Last year, the sentiment was that the CM did not take anyone into consideration. But at that time, Covid was new, nobody really knew how to tackle it, which medicines to use, neither the administration nor political representatives like us,” he added. “But this time, by taking everyone into confidence the CM has not left any place for anyone to criticise. Those who want to criticise will keep doing so, but at least they will have the moral awareness that their opinions were considered.”
Former Congress MLC Anant Gadgil agreed. “Basically, experience speaks. Last year, nobody knew how to handle Covid, politically or administratively. The government was also new…now the coalition has matured.”
Political analyst Hemant Desai noted that, this time, the CM “has spoken to people across the board, even political rivals such as Raj Thackeray (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) and Devendra Fadnavis (BJP).
“He announced a relief package though the state’s financial position is not strong,” he said.
BJP leader Atul Bhatkalkar, however, struck a different note as he sought to question the MVA government’s handling of the pandemic.
“Last year’s lockdown is not comparable to this one. Last year, the country had no medical infrastructure, PPE kits had to be imported, there were no testing labs. Today, we have thousands of labs, we are manufacturing our own PPEs and so on and the state is still struggling to contain the virus,” he said.
“The CM hasn’t learnt anything. The relief measures announced by the state government are just an eyewash,” he added.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
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