Oh my omnipotent state!
What the common people will do now post-Amphan?

Bhaskar Majumder

Now it is not migrant workers’ death on road or on railway track post-Corona 2019/2020, now it is not NPR or CAA to select-in some and crowd out others, now it is not Delhi Riots 2019. Now it is revenge of nature Amphan with Malthus or without Malthus. The most affected are the people in the states of Odisha and West Bengal – calculations by the expert committees to be appointed by the Government of India and by state governments will take time – pending that common people need care by rehabilitation-food-health care – forget for the time being formal education. Sarvonaashe samutpanne ardhang tyajati punditah – so goes the sloka in Sanskrit. Most of the common people are not pundits and for many, apart from instantaneous death – all are lost – all means kutcha house and kitchen utilities.

Oh state, you are omnipotent – you had been providing Advisory for everything including wage-payment or non-payment of wages of workers, payment of train ticket fare of migrant workers, ferrying the migrant workers from the destination to their native villages and all that. You announced Bis Lakh coroar package – please help the affected people and don’t waste 40+days now. Paper works will work at the level of Secretaries – first task is rescue and rehabilitation. The first talk is to declare it as a ‘Calamity’ and then go ahead to save humanity.

Delhi and Shaheen Bagh
Year 2019 belonged to Delhi Riots and Shaheen Bagh; in parallel, a little bit of JNU and Jamia. End-2019 and come-2020 belonged to global deadly Corona. In between there was continuous intimidation of CAA-NPR and all that. Unrest bred unrest – people and not Parliament had to be accused for all these. Some were sent to jail for violating Order. Post-Corona there was a little bit crowding out – some were released from Jail for social (anti-social) distancing.

Bharat Walking
Post-Corona it was Bharat walking – migrants broke their chain and violated state Order, started walking on road and railway track and many of them paid the price by death. State could not be held responsible for their death for they walked self-decided while the state arranged Shramik special trains for them. The Apex Court was in no wisdom to tread.

Now it is Amphan post-May, 20 2020. The degree of devastation is more in Amphan relative to recently experienced Bulbul 2019 and Alia 2009. Though some of the migrant workers joined their families in south 24 Parganas in West Bengal and they were happy home even if without food-job, Amphan took away their last support – shelter. The houses of most of these workers were kutcha or semi-pucca. Being cashless, they are not in a position to repair or construct new room/house. So they are again from road to road.

Apart from loss of private utilities, it will bring about loss of public utilities – failure of electricity and communications, crop loss, road damage, uprooting of trees, poles and pillars cracked or broken or uprooted. This Amphan resembled cyclone-cum-earthquake, as reported from residents of Kolkata.

People and Politics
Reluctantly I now enter into a domain that I abandoned long back – politics. I know even if I abandon politics, politics will not abandon me for it likes me. What I apprehend now is another round of standoff between the Centre and the state of West Bengal. The state of Odisha is also not less affected by Amphan what I got from media reports. But West Bengal is non-comparable for while both are coastal states, West Bengal has the dubious distinction of being a border of another sovereign state, a state in exception that produced both Ravindranath and Naxalites, a state that got impact of Partition 1947 no less damaging than Punjab on the north-west of India.

While the agony of West Bengal perpetuates, the Head of the Government stands firm and that is another crisis. One of my corporate friends asked me, why can’t she compromise? I was at a loss – what to compromise with. I must not deny that West Bengal is in politics – but is also in paintings-films-poetry equally. West Bengal cannot be equal to UP-Bihar for example – and why do we expect it to be like others. It is not trying to find caste-community in migrants walking on the road or the caste-community in the dead bodies.

The problems must be there if they did not bud. There is the Head of the state on the circumference who is wise enough to self-appoint to see if the people of West Bengal are safe under the Head of the Government on the circumference. If he is not satisfied, he has the right to report to the radius-distance which, in turn, may form and send the expert committees to estimate the losses due to Amphan and submit Report to the Government of India. It may breed another round of standoff – where do people go?  

Social Impact Assessment
SIA is of course urgent, but more urgent is rehabilitation of the affected people to concrete public buildings including schools-Panchayat Bhavans-temples-mosques-churches-Gurudwar and so on. No Ariel survey will help at this moment for the felled trees cannot be counted from the air or the depth of waterlogged areas cannot be estimated from the air – it is not to be like Meghnad-type war from behind the cloud. The immediate task is to open up community kitchen to feed the Chulha-less people. What is needed is immediate medical care, psychological counselling for many of them are by now victims twice – because of migration and because of Amphan.

State as the Mother
Rather than nourishing arrogance, time has come now to behave more like a mother – to feed the children/people cost-free. Let there be free lunch for the poor at least for next one month – the time that is required at the minimum to restore the confidence of the people affected in unnumbered ways and most of which are beyond their control. The state as the custodian and controller of national resources is in a commendable position to provide life-saving measures to save people.

What people need at this moment is to see that the state is with them – this is the time to be “for the people’’. I believe the state will not fail the people post-Amphan 2020.

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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May 23, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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