As the few days of staying at home in lockdown extend to weeks and now looks like it is going to be months, what appeared to be a small intermission in life has now started to appear a massive traumatic challenge to daily existence even to the upper middle class of the Indian society.

The initial days of this pause in life went like a small vacation, spending time with family, indulging in hobbies. I have detailed some of these in an earlier blogpost. Time was being spent playing with children or grand-children, reading, surfing on the net, meditating, praying, working out at home and when the thought of business at a stand still gave rise to stress many like me busted it by trying creativity in cooking. Anuj Bhargava of Kumar labels shared his singing talent on social media. My own cousin and best buddy since childhood Mohanbir Sahni, chairman and managing director of Elofic Industries Limited, India’s largest automotive filter manufacturers, in response to my twitter/LinkedIn/blog post  which read, “Cooking seems to be the best stress buster during lockdown!” sent to me a WhatsApp message, “I agree cooking is the best stress buster…The cook inside me is getting active!” Sudhir Jain of Jain Transfer products is reading biographies of successful businessmen, Sanjeev Sondhi of Zircon Technologies, a devout follower of Lord Shiva spent a lot of time in prayers, meditation and cooking staying alone stuck at his manufacturing hub at Dehradun, LMAI President Kuldip Goel found time to reignite his passion for writing poetry, my school friend Rana Gurjeet Singh former minister Punjab and MLA Kapurthala spent time and money sanitizing his constituency, distributing food and supporting development of cost effective ventilators”. These are just a few examples of how people have used their time, but as we reach the end of the second part of lockdown; worries of time, money and business lost, looms large on our minds. Also worrisome is the fate of the workers and staff that face loss of jobs.

A growing number of organisations around the world have already started shedding jobs. Some of international Label industry equipment suppliers in Europe and USA have already cut down on the number of senior executives, especially those posted at foreign locations.

It would be unethical to mention any specific names in this difficult time until the companies themselves announce. Suffering is not just from infections due to covid-19 but also from its impact on jobs and lifestyles. In India, as you go down the lower rungs of society the difficulties grow exponentially. See the plight of migrant labourers who travelled hundreds of miles away from home to make an earning to feed their families and now they are without a shelter and without food. Many of them are daily wage earners who earn during the day to have money to buy food for the next 24 hours. They also have no transport to go back to their homes in villages faraway. They cannot pay the rentals and do not know what the next day has in store for them. For those who managed to reach their homes in villages are not sure if they will be accepted back at work. Even the employers will be hesitant as they are not sure who maybe carrying some infection. At this, one is tempted to wonder, “who has done it?”

The origin of Corona virus, everyone knows is Wuhan in China, then who originated it and who brought it to India? While the western world is convinced it is China’s doing and the Chinese say it is American plans to defame them.

Only time may tell the truth if it ever surfaces. Meanwhile it is obvious that the travelers are the ones who spread it inadvertently. In India it is either the foreigners travelling in or the outbound Indians returning home. Almost 3 million Indians travel out of India every month and the arrivals into India are less than a million every month making it a total of 4 million per month. If we take the total arrivals into India from January to march in 3months it should be around 12 million or 1.2 Crore people. Now is it not strange that less than 1% number has put 135 Crore Indians into problem. On the flip side, even just one percent of these travelers if infected, could have spelt havoc for the country. But then no one carries the infection intentionally. Who passed it on is not in the know of the unsuspecting traveler, one cannot really blame them? However, the timely lockdown by prime Minister Modi seems to have stemmed the fast spread to a great extent.

While the industry is still to realise the actual impact of this unprecedented occurrence, the very thought of the time ahead sends a shiver down the spine. India has been adversely impacted due to continuous changes which may have been brought about with good intentions, Demonetization, GST introduction, Slowdown and now the Lockdown due to Corona Virus.

Except for essentials for survival, all spending has been on hold, trade and industry is at standstill, expenses of businesses have ticked on while earnings have vanished. Even when the lockdown is lifted it will be a very slow process and may take many months to return to normalcy. Lack of demand for fmcg and other non-essential consumer goods will impact the industry negatively. The travel trade, organized retail and restaurants will face a crisis as it will be long before people gain confidence to travel or venture out in public places. Schools are not likely to open for a few months, unemployment is likely to rise. Life must go over a complete change. However, as they say there is light at the end of the tunnel. India may appear to become the preferred manufacturing hub for the world and when things improve (may be next year) the economy may bounce back to greater heights. It would be pertinent to mention here that in view of the imperative need for social distancing ecommerce is likely to grow immensely. Instead of crowding in shops and malls, home delivered shopping with safety measures will be opted for. On a brighter note; the pollution is down, the cities are cleaner, the rivers are clean, the sky is clearer, the birds are back and chirping and the world is united in its stance against this pandemic.

Coming back to those who lose jobs and homes (due to non-affordability of rentals), life may put forward many difficult parameters. The daily wage earners or those companies who are forced to shut shop due to being unviable will be asking themselves why this happened to us for no fault of ours? Who has done it?

The government has been putting some small amounts of cash in their accounts that does not cover all and moreover the amount is not enough to feed families of 4 or 5 persons. They are not sure how many will be able to return to their erstwhile jobs and whether they will be taken back or not and what precautions they have to take and whether life in cities will remain affordable here on. The poor and the worst effected will be left wondering the meaning of residual part of life, they will for sure be looking towards government for help. The constitution of India provides for a right to life. Article 21 of the constitution reads as: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.” Elaborating on this the Supreme Court of India has put forth that, “The right to live includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, viz., the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over the head and facilities for reading writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and mingling with fellow human beings and must include the right to basic necessities, the basic necessities of life and also the right to carry on functions and activities as constitute the bare minimum expression of human self.”So, it is an imperative for the government to come to the rescue of the affected citizens. The lockdown is not the brainchild or imposition of business owners or the trade. It is a result of a pandemic over which neither the workers nor the business owners have any control. At this time the government needs to come to the rescue of their citizens to exercise their right to life. Each time one tries to ponder over the impact of this virus and its deadly nature that has affected millions around the world, the question that is beyond a common man’s comprehension keeps cropping up, “Who has done it?”
Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited April 2020
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