Civilian flights within the country are set to resume as the Central government takes giant steps towards normalising life with. coronavirus
Domestic travellers in India are set to take wing again. After a lockdown-enforced hiatus of about 50 days, domestic flights are making a comeback, just in time to help people join the Eid celebrations as the partial resumption of air traffic will take place on the day of the festival. The relaxations offered in air travel – which shall initially resume at one-third capacity - in lockdown 4.0 have signalled the Narendra Modi government’s resolve to set an example in adapting to live with coronavirus which is unlikely to go away in the next one year or so.
Resumption of domestic flights and the plan to start of 200 non-AC ticketed trains for June 1 – while following strict standard operating procedures (SOPs) shows the government’s intention to supplement the stimulus for the economy with matching activity in the spheres of travel, trade and commerce.
The lifting of curbs on air and rail travel sends a strong message to the common man that the nation is not only preparing for the coronavirus cases to peak but is also geared up to fearlessly resume activities vital for the nation that has seen over 1.1 lakh coronavirus infections with over 3,500 deaths. In the immediate future, the domestic airlines will have to follow ticket price guidelines issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation Ministry, implying that a Delhi-Mumbai flight ticket will have to be priced between Rs 3,500 and 10,000 for the next three months. "For the purpose of differential pricing, flight durations have been divided in 7 categories - 0-30 minutes, 30-60 minutes, 60-90 minutes, 90-120 minutes, 120-150 minutes, 150-180 minutes, and 180-210 minutes,” the civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said, adding that 40 per cent of the seats on a flight must be priced less than 50 per cent of the price band – Rs 6,700 for the Delhi-Mumbai route. About one-third of flight operations of airlines will resume with strict conditions like limited baggage for passengers, compulsory Aarogya Setu app in the phones of airlines staff and passengers, no meals on board, temperature checks for all passengers and full protective gear for crew.
Action on the education front has also started picking up as student organisations in the Delhi University have made a representation to the MHRD to stop universities from taking online tests of students. Evaluation of students’ learning through examinations – whether online or offline – without proper imparting of education through direct classroom teaching will definitely translate into a fiasco, said the Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS). In its memorandum to the Union ministry, the KYS said the talk of online examinations has only enhanced the individual level of anxiety and stress, particularly among the majority of students whose diverse home conditions do not support a suitable environment for self-study, and who invariably lack sufficient access to properly functional computers or smart phones.
Fighting for the cause of students who do not have access to a stable internet connection at home or a smartphone, the KYC said a large number of students are stuck in their native places, devoid of their books, notes, study materials and are struggling to cope. A significant section of students are locked down in regions where there are internet coverage issues. There are also numerous students who are simply handicapped by the lack of a laptop, contingencies stemming from malfunctioning smartphones, the inability to easily navigate new apps, among other challenges. There are in fact many students who come from poor households where the sheer lack of physical space within their home disallows for quality, uninterrupted learning. It is also necessary to factor in the special needs of students with physical disabilities, who do not have access to technology which supports extensive online learning, and instead, depend heavily on special resources and infrastructure provided within campuses of educational institutions. Likewise, we cannot overlook the specific obstacles faced by a large section of women students, who have had to increasingly share the burden of routine household chores in the ensuing lockdown.
Taking a cue from resumption of German soccer, sans spectators in stadium, the Modi government has also moved towards restarting training of athletes, raising hopes of permitting IPL cricket tournament without spectators at venues, later this year. As a result of the government’s intention to resume sports and training, the Sports Authority of India has issued SOPs saying that athletes' training will begin in a phased manner after dividing sports into four categories, depending upon the level of physical contact involved in each of them. The government's Arogya Setu app, which helps track Covid-19 cases, has also been mandated for all athletes, coaches and staff. Sports have been divided into four categories - non-contact, medium contact, full contact and water sports.
On the political front, competitive politics was yet again at display in Uttar Pradesh with both the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress striving to win over harassed migrants who are desperate to reach their home towns. Priyanka Gandhi’s offer to arrange 1,000 buses for migrants irked her own party’s rebel MLA from Raebareli Aditi who accused the former of indulging in gimmicks.
Claiming that most of the vehicles arranged by the Congress for the migrants were small vehicles and not buses, Aditi said: "There is a fraud in more than half buses. 297 buses are junk, 98 of them are auto-rickshaws and ambulance-type vehicles, 68 vehicles are without any papers. What a cruel joke is that?” she asked.
The bickering over plying buses for migrants has erupted when the BJP-led Uttar Pradesh government has decided to send 12,000 buses to ferry stranded migrants to their states. Adityanath has asked other state governments to provide lists of the migrants who need rides home. District magistrates will be provided 200 buses each to arrange for their travel. The migrants would be provided food and water. In another development, the UP government is insisting on carrying out a screening test of migrants enrolling for government facility for transport back to UP, many states have expressed their inability to do so, adding to the chaos over migrants’ return.
In Delhi, the daily jump in Covid-19 cases has touched 500 while the total has crossed 11,000. The Delhi government has claimed that it has facilities to feed 20 lakh people if needed and maintained that the government has been feeding 20,000 migrants at over 220 shelters. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal CM also threw open public transport buses and autorickshaws and cabs for helping the economy to open up and migrants to find work. But this has not mitigated the fear in the minds of cash-strapped and jobless migrants who have continued to leave the city for their native places.
Experts warn due to the displacement of migrant workers and in the aftermath of the economic damage caused by coronavirus, India’s fight against poverty and achieving other sustainable development goals, including zero hunger, gender equality, quality education, good health and clean water and sanitation, by 2030 would need more time and recalibration of deadlines and targets.
The Modi government has shown tact in planning a measured exit from the lockdown and at the same time shown intent to help its stranded countrymen in other countries. The government has decided to extend its ''Vande Bharat Mission'', that was to end on May 22, till June 13. A total of 23,475 Indian nationals have been rescued so far after a total of 2,59,001 registered to return from 98 countries. In the coming days, India would bring back its nationals from 47 countries on 162 flights, that may also involve private airlines. Amid the praise that the Modi government is earning for its fight against coronavirus and evacuation of Indians, experts have also started suggesting that the BJP-led government could set a global standard in learning from the dropped emission levels due to lockdown and rebuilding the economy in an imaginative way so that environment healing that has inadvertently happened due to the standstill becomes a bit more permanent and we leave a more eco-friendly world for the next generation.