Maharashtra has once again imposed stringent movement curbs in a bid to flatten the exponentially rising curve of infections during the second and by far deadlier wave of Covid-19. The lockdown – though it is not called as such – has become inevitable, as healthcare systems were being stretched to breaking point by the relentless rise in the number of cases. The state has clearly learnt some lessons well from tackling the first wave of Covid-19, which has helped shape a more nuanced and tactical response to the deadly second wave. A case in point is how the state, and particularly Mumbai, managed the massive increase in demand for hospital beds and oxygen during the second wave. Despite having one of the highest caseloads in the country, Mumbai largely managed to avoid the spectacle of ambulances lined up waiting outside hospitals and frantic relatives running from pillar to post to secure oxygen.
However, in certain other areas, some of the learnings from last year’s lockdown, which had a disastrous impact on the economy, appear to have been forgotten. A case in point is the requirement that all truck drivers entering the state need to furnish an RT-PCR-negative report which is less than 48 hours old, in order to be allowed entry. This is highly impracticable. Commercial vehicles like trucks – and therefore, their drivers – are constantly on the move. It is practically impossible for them to get tested repeatedly. Further, with pressure on testing leading to delays of several days in getting the results, the practical outcome will be a crippling halt to the movement of goods in and out of Maharashtra, as well as choke the flow from other states passing through Maharashtra. This could have a severe cascading impact on the rest of the economy and lead to the kind of massive supply chain bottlenecks seen in 2020.
Maharashtra (and neighbouring Gujarat) are the most industrialised states in the country. Mumbai Port and the nearby JNPT together account for a significant share of the import-export trade of the county. All of this, as well as critical supplies like medicines, oxygen etc., all move on trucks. Such a requirement will essentially bring a halt to truck movement, which will hurt the economy as a whole.
Instead, the state should look at establishing ‘green corridors’ with proper Covid protocols at wayside halts where truckers stop for food, fuel and rest. Truck drivers and cleaners need to be treated as frontline workers and prioritised for vaccination. Those vaccinated – or already recovered from Covid – can be given ‘vaccine passports’ to pass through without hindrance. Where detention is unavoidable – like truckers who fall sick on the way – facilities must be created for isolating and treating them. A second, crippling disruption of the supply chain should be avoided at all costs. This must be treated as a national priority since Maharashtra is a critical cog in India’s economic engine.