It must be stated up front and immediately that the decision to impose the nation-wide lockdown was necessary and good. But there are lessons to be learned from the manner in which the policy decision announced by the Prime Minister was to be implemented within a four-hour timeframe.
India has a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) headed by the Prime Minister the mandate of which includes handling a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) attack/event.
The Sunday shutdown should have been used as a dress rehearsal to gauge the effect on the population as a whole. Instead it left out the migrant masses from the calculus.
Armed with the foreknowledge of previous pandemics that originated in China—SARS and swine flu—the government (read NDMA) headed by the Prime Minister should have realized the possibility that India too would have to deal with the management of a reaction of a multi-layered high-density society as is India.The Sunday drill showed that there was a dichotomy within the shutdown between insisting on people staying indoors and allowing shops and banks, chemist shops, and groceries to be opened with the police and paramilitary forces standing around with the clear intention of using lathi and kicking anyone who dared to come out.
The lesson is that if you want the curfew to succeed make sure you ensure supplies of the daily necessities at the doorstep in a habitat with streets just wide enough to allow two persons to walk side-by-side
This is a biological event well within the mandate of the NDMA. There have been hints that the pandemic was a well-organised plot by China to undermine and reorganize the global economic structure to its own advantage.This may well be totally false and a conjucture but one cannot deny that the effect on the rest of the world, including India, is one of unmitigated disaster irrespective of whether it was manmade or an accident. Hence the need to bring the NDMA to the fore.
India’s response to the coronovirus pandemic is based on the 14-day incubation period of the phenomenon. We have seen the reaction of panic buying and mass exodus of sections of the population that found itself vulnerable thereby vitiating the very purpose of the lockdown—dispersal of crowds to prevent community propagation of the disease.
What if it had been a nuclear explosion (another of NDMA’s mandate) either by accident or manmade with malice aforethought? Given that India’s nuclear policy is one of “No First Use” and Pakistan’s one of first use if its vital points are threatened by an Indian attack India will have to prepare to deal with the worst case scenario. The nuances of chemical and biological can be built into it
Author: Cecil Victor
(The writer has covered all the wars with Pakistan as War Correspondent and reported from the conflict zones in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in South East Asia as well as from Afghanistan. He is the author of “India: The Security Dilemma”)