Sharp increase

Print edition : July 17, 2020

A health worker collecting a swab sample for the COVID-19 test at primary health centre in Gandhinagar in Gurugram on June 22. On an average, Haryana has conducted 8,262 tests in one million of the population, which is much lower than Delhi (22,106 tests per million) or Rajasthan (9,799 tests per million). Photo: PTI

Dr Veena Singh, Director of Health Services, Haryana, addresses a press conference at PWD Rest House in Gurugram on June 19. Photo: PTI

A labourer works on the Shankar Chowk elevated U-turn flyover in Gurugram on June 13. Labour shortages in construction and other labour-intensive forms of production persist in the State. Photo: PTI

In Haryana, the number of active cases has shown a sharp rise in recent weeks, approximating the trend in neighbouring Delhi. While the overall number of cases and mortality rate is far lower than Delhi’s, the high percentage of active cases is a cause for worry.

HARYANA was once way below on the list of States with the highest number of COVID-19 infections but has now moved up the ranks to ninth place. In the one-week period of June 21-26, the average growth rate of cases was 4 per cent, higher than that of Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh but lower than neighbouring Delhi. Even though Haryana has reported a low mortality rate (1.59 per cent; 198 deaths as of June 26) compared with other States, the number of confirmed cases per million of the population was higher than the national average. In fact, the daily spike in the number of cases in June has been sharp, with the trend approximating and imitating the growth of cases in Delhi.

 The percentage of active cases (the rate of infections) was almost double that of Rajasthan and more than that of Delhi, which is worrying. The districts of Gurugram and Faridabad, both industrial hubs and employment centres for blue-collar and white-collar workers alike, accounted for 62.69 per cent of the cases in the State in the fourth week of June. That is, of the total of 12,884 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Haryana, 8,078 were reported from these two districts, with Gurugram accounting for 38.27 per cent of the total caseload and Faridabad for 24.32 per cent. In third place was Sonipat with 8.49 per cent, and Rohtak, the political capital of the State, accounted for only 3.9 per cent of the overall caseload.

On an average, the State has conducted 8,262 tests in one million of the population, which is much lower than Delhi (22,106 tests per million) or Rajasthan (9,799 tests per million). Its recovery rate at 59.22 per cent is lower than that of Delhi and nearly 20 percentage points lower than the recovery rate of Rajasthan.

Labour shortages abound

A recent survey done by the State unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) in the industrial areas in Gurugram, Faridabad and Panipat found that workers who had left the State following the lockdown had not returned. A large number of them from States such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh had stayed in their home States, while some workers from neighboring Rajasthan had returned. Construction activity had come to a standstill as the bulk of the workforce in construction was from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Most of the smaller industrial units had not reopened, while the workforce participation in the larger units was anywhere between 25 per cent and 50 per cent only. The shortage of demand was one reason for the units not reopening. Production too was broadly in the range of 25 to 50 per cent. Workers were being paid only for the days they worked without any provision for leave. In the automobile sector, which was already in a state of slowdown much before the lockdown, only spare parts were being manufactured. Given the shortage of labour and in order to entice the migrant workforce back, the government declared that it would bear up to Rs.1,500 of the travel expenses of migrant workers if they returned to the State. Despite the offer, workers had not turned up and so the labour shortages in construction and other labour-intensive forms of production persist.

While on the one hand industry was facing labour shortages, white-collar workers, including those at the lower managerial levels, were being retrenched. The loss of jobs in the information technology and IT-enabled services sector was huge. Jai Bhagwan, general secretary of the State unit of the CITU, said that many of those who had been laid off were youngsters who had literally been left “high and dry”. “Their employers have been forcing them to resign. They do not know what to do and where to apply. The Labour Department is nowhere on the scene,” he said.

‘Fake news punishable offence’

On June 16, Deputy Commissioner Shyam Lal Poonia of Sonipat district, who is also the district head of the Disaster Management Authority, warned individuals not to spread fake news relating to COVID-19 on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. According to him, such news and YouTube videos posted by individuals had the potential to spread panic and cause mental stress. He also stated that the usage of such media was “journalistic activity” and, therefore, needed to be cleared by the government’s Information Department. Poonia made a reference to the Supreme Court’s advice to the media about accurate reporting. The court made these observations in April in response to an appeal from the Central government to restrain the media. The Deputy Commissioner warned that anybody spreading fake news relating to the epidemic and thereby causing panic among people would face charges under the relevant provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1957; the Disaster Management Act and Rules, 2005; and the Indian Penal Code. People found guilty could be imprisoned for one year and have to pay a fine under the provisions of the Disaster Management Act. “He’s very strict about all this, but when we requested him to allow us to distribute rations among workers who had been left to fend for themselves, he did not give us passes to move around,” said Jai Bhagwan. He said that the administration in various districts had allowed quasi-religious organisations and outfits affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh to do relief work but had not allowed the Left parties and their mass organisations to do the same. “Despite having worked in the unorganised sector in the State for so many years, we were given only 20 passes in all. We were not able to help our members and other workers because of this,” he told Frontline.

On May 14, the Union Finance Minister announced that all migrants who did not possess ration cards would get five kilograms of grain a person and one kilogram of gram, or channa, a family for a period of two months. Apparently, in Haryana not a single migrant family had received this benefit. The District Commissioner in one particular district told a delegation of women activists of the All India Democratic Women’s Association that he had not received any “written orders” and, therefore, could not give the go-ahead for distributing the rations. He said, however, that he could help with organising cooked food for them.

Much of the State has been in an “unlock” mode since the first week of June as religious places and shopping malls outside containment zones have been opened to the public though with standard operating procedures and guidelines in place to prevent the spread of the virus. In the worst affected districts, Gurugram for instance, the lockdown in containment zones was extended until June 30. Concerned about the rising number of cases in Kaithal, Deputy Commissioner Sujan Singh imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the district on June 17 and it was to remain in force until June 30. Even though every district administrative head seems to be deploying his/her own unique method of controlling the spread of COVID-19, the steady rise in the number of cases will be a definite cause for worry in the coming weeks.

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