1908Published on April 18, 2020
The battle against COVID-19 over the last three months globally has shown that the only possible solution to this pandemic is social distancing in the form of physical distancing or isolation. This could minimise the risk of spreading infection if people stay at home and have healthy sanitation. Consequently, governments across the world have made every attempt to keep people at home to contain COVID-19. Despite numerous attempts by doctors and experts in public health the world has yet to see some dedicated medication or vaccine that could prevent the spread of infection and save people from the pandemic. Every government has been doing its best to protect people living under the poverty line to ensure that social distancing is effectively maintained.
This has led many to question how such a huge number of poor people can live under complete lockdown. In a writing in The Indian Express, Nobel laureates Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee suggested stronger social transfers to combat the pandemic in the context of India. The couple proposed that the Indian government should pass benefits along with an electronic receipt to the people’s accounts. It claims that the best way to keep people out of looking for livelihood options is to send incentives at their doorsteps. They also suggested a greater amount of transfers in every household. Though they are optimistic about a curve flattening during the lockout for 21 days, it is comprehensible that if the disease enters urban slums, the government would find it difficult to contain it because maintaining social distancing is tough to observe in slums. Now a pertinent question is whether the Indian government has the capacity to ensure further audacious social transfers to each family directly. In addition to the special allocation announced by state governments to save their citizens of the crippling effects of the COVID-19, we have seen the Indian government to declare Rs 1.7 lakh relief packages to mitigate economic distress caused by the lockdown.
Given that the condition of the poor in Bangladesh is similar to that in India, many might argue that the government should apply the same strategy as Duflo and Banerjee suggested restraining people from stepping out of their homes in search of livelihood. The question now is whether the Bangladeshi government can send adequate money and materials directly to a huge number of people living in poverty and distress during the lockdown. The answer will possibly no. However, the government announced a TK 72,750 crore stimulus package, about 2.5 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to contain and mitigate the economic fallout of COVID-19. This package includes working capital for affected industries (approximately $3.5 billion) and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) ($2.36 billion), additions to the size of the central bank’s export development fund ($1.5 billion), the central bank’s new credit facility ($590 million) and emergency incentive for export-oriented industries ($690 million). These steps were primarily designed to save the economy and industry during this pandemic.
Moreover, the government has taken several other initiatives to support the most vulnerable segments of society and sectors in need of support. In this context, the coverage of Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) and Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) has been expanded, rice sales have been increased at a lower price and the coverage of social safety net programs has been increased. Along with the government initiatives, individuals, groups, NGOs and many other actors have come forward with relief materials to assist the distressed people in the worst catastrophe of the century. The government is also actively considering fund transfer directly to each of 34 lakh poor families. Besides, Prime Minister has announced TK 50 billion loans to farmers at a low interest rate. The decision of the government has been appreciated by the experts.
But, one may wonder whether these subsidies would help people who depend from hand to mouth for their livelihood during this pandemic. In principle, these groups of people should receive assistances allocated by the government for them. From the part of the government, strong instructions have been passed to the local administration; law-makers and people’s representatives to support these people with these allocations. The main intention of the government is to ensure that people stay at home so that the possibility of the spread of COVID-19 gets reduced.
Unfortunately, all the efforts of the government will produce very little success or outcomes if we do not support the government. People are stepping out of their homes very frequently even they do not have a job to do. These people without comprehending the negative impact of COVID-19 are not only pushing their family members at risk but also people in the community. As a result, law enforcing agencies and the members of the army are getting it very difficult to restrain people from stepping out from their homes which are very dangerous for us as we have already entered grade three of the COVID-19 infection phase. If the trend persists for another week, we will have to pay for this through the death of thousands of innocent people. The ill motive of some of the political leaders and people’s representatives is seriously affecting our fight against COVID-19 by stealing the relief materials allocated for the distressed people. These people are mentally sick as they do not have any sympathy for the poor. The government should take strong actions against those who would be found stealing relief materials. If some of them are given exemplary punishment others would be frightened to do the same thing.
There is a tendency among a group of people in society to criticise every action of the government. They do not try to comprehend the obligations of the government. At present, the government is trying their best to assist the distressed people. But, to make these initiatives a success, the government requires all-out efforts from every corner of society. The government has declared shout down in offices, public transformations and everything as a containment strategy. But we have seen that many people have used this shutdown as their vacation. As a conscious citizen of the country, I feel shame seeing these people who do not follow the instruction of staying at home.
We have seen many to step out from homes to gossip with others at tea stalls. Once they are challenged by the law enforcing agencies, I have seen many, through electronic media, say that they are feeling bored while staying at home. If the government does not receive support from the public, the government alone can't overcome this catastrophe. Of course, some people come on the street due to compulsion. But, proper distribution of relief materials would make them feel happy and influence them to remain at homes. Unfortunately, we do not see some of the big names who are considered as the conscience of the nation during this pandemic. They could criticise every action of the government. But, they are not seen anywhere nowadays. They should have invested a lot in assisting people in need. Otherwise, they do not have any right to criticise the government’s efforts in fighting the catastrophe of COVID-19
We are approaching a very bad time. We will have to support the government to overcome this situation collectively. What Duflo and Banerjee have said is one possible way to overcome the situation. They are right. But, a country like Bangladesh does not afford to ensure this strategy due to limited resources. We have seen many super-powers who are struggling to deal with COVID-19. Therefore, the support of the citizens is one of the few alternatives that could save us. To stop the misappropriation of relief and support, the government should consider the engagement of the army in relief distribution. In that case, the intensity of misappropriation of relief materials would get reduced and the people with utmost necessity would receive the support. Let us try to be sensible in our behaviour instead of criticizing every action of the government during this pandemic. If we want to win this battle we should extend our cooperation to the government by staying at home and following their directions. Otherwise, COVID-19 would not consider caste, creed, economic condition and religion while making its presence felt in the human body.
Courtesy: Daily Sun
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration and an Additional Director of the Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) at the University of Rajshahi.