Home / Opinion / Views /  Opinion | Lockdown in Goa: Govt's own missteps in India’s tourist haven

Anxiety reigns in India’s smallest state as its unprepared administration struggles with implementing the nationwide lockdown, compounded by the heavy-handed insertion of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). The situation threatens to blow up into an explosive social crisis.

On Saturday, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant declared the CRPF “will be given a free hand to take action against people violating the lockdown orders". Less than 24 hours later, there were already videos circulating of passers-by being assaulted and humiliated in the capital city of Panjim.

A broad-based coalition of citizens, Goa People's Voices COVID19 Response, has issued an official complaint, “People are on the roads due to the confusion caused by the constantly changing announcements about essential commodities and services, without systematic access to food. Their desperation levels are high. To blame this situation on the people is to absolve the state’s own responsibility."

That description of events is wholly accurate, as many parts of the state are completely stranded, without supplies, with their anguished complaints flooding social media. Journalist Mihir Sharma spoke for many observers when he asked on Twitter, “All the worrying news out of Goa is odd. It is India's most developed state, it's geographically compact, has a solid welfare system -- why is it breaking under the lockdown? Why are there no groceries, and why is the CM asking for central paramilitary forces?"

The fact is Goa’s leadership flipped an altogether manageable situation into chaos in just a few days, in an extraordinary display of carelessness and incompetence. Initially, Sawant refused to cancel the 22 March Zilla Panchayat elections, himself leading packed-in rallies after announcing national directives about social distancing.

But then he raced to clampdown, with blanket bans callously applied with zero preparation to mitigate the obvious consequences. Supply lines were severed. Fishermen banned from doing their job. Even the ubiquitous honk-honking bread deliverymen were heedlessly stopped from making rounds. No one was prepared. And so, entirely predictably, chaos ensued. Where there had never been crowds – the innate, langorous social distancing of Goa – panicked masses gathered to try and secure supplies. If the state does indeed experience any Covid-19 disaster, it will surely be rooted in this bungling

Many people did stay home, trusting the state’s reassurances that home delivery would begin immediately. But days passed, and they found themselves facing the stark reality. As filmmaker and a relatively recent Goa resident, Apurva Asrani, wrote on Twitter on 26 March, “Matters have gotten desperate in #Goa. Not a single shop, grocery/provision store has been allowed to open for 3 days, inspite of assurances by @narendramodi. If we step out looking for bread, we are beaten by cops. Starvation will kill us before #coronavirus."

Entrepreneur and actor Gaurav Bakshi made identical complaints on NDTV, adding that state health minister Vishwajit Rane “continues to have public meetings, and went to Goa Medical Centre without a mask, [he] has time to put out selfies but not to resolve issues of people." In response, Rane put out an astonishingly ill-advised video saying, in effect that Baskhi’s views didn’t matter because he was “non-Goan" (a term he deployed several times) and that NDTV should instead ask “a prominent Goan" to comment.

Whatever their background, almost every Goan has spent the past few days scrambling to securing supplies for their families, and innumerable other individuals who have sent distress signals that they are in trouble. Some village networks have activated to bring relief to many people, but those on the margins are now in real peril, especially the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who keep the state economy ticking.

This Sunday, I was compelled to deliver medicines to my parents and mother-in-law in their homes in two different villages in North Goa. On the way, we were stopped repeatedly at roadblock barricades. The policemen, all of them Konkani-speaking locals, were humane and understanding. One of them even enquired whether our folks were alone, and needed help. In each village we passed, long lines stretched behind vegetable shops, but everything else was shut.

Eventually, we reached my parents in the dream home they built for retirement, which is now their quarantine quarters. On their driveway, overhung with cashew and mango trees, I was startled by an immense langur – the first one seen in these parts in over a decade. Obviously, my folks and I couldn’t meet and embrace, so I left their stuff below their balcony, and exchanged a few words. On the drive back through their village, we were startled by an old woman standing on the side of the road, signaling distress with both hands. She told us she was hungry, and hadn’t eaten for two days. All I had to give her was money.

The views carried here are author's own.

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