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I wish there was a book titled ‘Public Administration for Dummies’ because I would surely have read it cover to cover before attempting this piece. But there isn’t one. So here is a layperson view like all my scribblings are – unburdened by texts, as I would like to think. The 21 -day lockdown imposed by the Indian Government on more than one-sixth of humanity is the largest exercise on the planet in terms of sheer numbers. It is even larger than our democratic elections because here the participation is 100% and the consequences are far-reaching across all sectors of human endeavour. Further, India in lockdown affects the world as much as it affects our own people.

The lockdown was the right step at the time that it was announced. In hindsight, it may have been better to have started a week earlier but international and domestic circumstances, misinformation and the novelty of the threat would have clouded decision-making of such massive proportions. All that notwithstanding, the firm decision and the all-of-government approach has done a lot of good, barring a few incidents of totally unpardonable and abhorrent community behaviour. Had these not happened, our COVID mathematics today would have been quite different and we may well have been well on our way to recovery. On the happier side, the surge in our healthcare capability has also been reassuring. We still have 10 days of lockdown to go and with good community behaviour and a large dollop of luck, we have every chance of succeeding in the fight.

Confusion now prevails over lifting of the lockdown. There are as many views as there are individuals, as many analyses as there are news channels and as much misinformation as there are fake news peddlers. The Cabinet Secretary has stated publicly that the Government is not yet contemplating any extension of lockdown. There are very good reasons for his saying so. An extended lockdown will have serious impacts on livelihood. There is a view that the economic repercussions may be much more than public health setbacks. Schools, colleges, markets, courts and public services cannot remain suspended indefinitely. The large population of daily wage earners must get back to work in order to feed their families. Law and order will crumble if 1.3 billion people decide to disregard lockdown and step into the streets. They will not do that if there is clarity on the lockdown lift and the Government must provide this clarity at the earliest. And finally, the next election has to be contested too. Politicians know that much better than we do.

That said, Central and State governments would do well to draw up detailed plans for normalisation. The return to normalcy cannot happen at the snap of a finger. Each and every area of work would require a graduated restoration – by a staggered time, event or activity plan. Curbs on large gatherings must continue for another two months. International travel should be the last to open up. Cargo movements should be eased. Hygiene, sanitation and public health efforts must continue and become second nature in due course. *’Don’t Rush and Avoid Rush’* should be the restoration mantra. The money-making industry will exert pressure on governments to cut corners and throw caution to the winds. Movements of people including the return of migrant labour will be the single biggest challenge for administrations and the biggest threat that could cause a spike in infections if not regulated well. Managing this ‘Stabilisation Phase’ will be as important as combating the virus itself.

So lifting of the lockdown is really not a question of ‘When’ but a matter of ‘How’. Planning is critical. Each of us involved in any manner with restoration must remember the maxim – If we fail to plan, we are planning to fail.

04 Apr 20

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