OPINION: Lockdown extension will lead to food riots, large-scale civil disorder

Many will die due to the ill-advised and inhuman lockdown, Katju writes

A group of migrant workers walk to their villages amid the nationwide complete lockdown, on the NH24 near Delhi-UP Border in New Delhi | PTI A group of migrant workers walk to their villages amid the nationwide complete lockdown, on the NH24 near Delhi-UP Border in New Delhi | PTI

I read the article of Nida Usman Chaudhry titled 'Vilifying lockdown is a move by the govt to cover up its incompetence’, published in Pakistani portal Naya Daur, and beg to disagree with the writer.

Nida was strongly critical of the statement of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan ''Elite ne faisla kar liya saare mulk ke liye'', and she has strongly supported the lockdown as being necessary in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

I had earlier written an article ' The danger of coronavirus has been greatly exaggerated' in Naya Daur. In that article I mentioned that many more people die of other infectious diseases like TB, malaria, flu, dengue and other ailments like diabetes, heart attacks or even car accidents than those who die, or will die, of coronavirus. Only about 2 per cent of those who are infected by coronavirus die of it, the rest recover.

Moreover, only about 1,000 people have died of coronavirus so far in India, and about 327 in Pakistan. In contrast, the USA with one third the population of India has had 65,770 deaths due to it. This seems to indicate that people in the Indian subcontinent have far greater immunity to the disease than Americans or Europeans. So, its danger has been greatly exaggerated.

With respect I wish to state that the lockdown declared by the Indian Prime Minister at 8.30 pm on March 24 to be effective from midnight the same day, was a knee jerk reaction and a decision taken in a hurry, without wide consultation with scientific and administrative experts, and without adequate advance notice to the people, and was an incorrect decision. It was initially announced for three weeks, then extended by another three, and now by another two till May 17. We do not know what will happen thereafter.

The latest order of the Indian government divides the country into three zones-red, orange and green. The red zone which has a large number of COVID-19 cases will have total lockdown, the orange zone which has less will have some restrictions removed, while the green zone which has very few or no cases will have still fewer restrictions.

I submit this red, orange, green zone division is unworkable. In my article 'End this lockdown', I said that 80-90 per cent of the Indian workforce ( i.e. 40-45 crore people ) is in the informal/unorganised sector of our economy. These are daily wagers, migrants, etc who work every day to eat every day. Without work they and their families will starve. This lockdown has deprived them of their livelihood. Many migrants in cities (who have no work) started trekking on foot with their families to their villages hundreds of kilometres away, as there were no trains or buses running. Many died on the way. Many more are dying, and will surely die due to this ill-advised and inhuman lockdown.

Many people from red zones will surely trek to some green or orange zones in order to survive. So, this zoning cannot be enforced strictly in practice.

I am afraid if this lockdown is not immediately lifted, there will soon be food riots due to large scale starvation, and consequential civil disorders. One is reminded of the French Revolution of 1789 of which shortage of bread was one of the causes, or the February Revolution in Russia in 1917 caused by women demonstrating for food on International Women’s Day on the streets of St Petersburg, or the great Bengal Famine of 1943 which killed millions of people.

I respectfully agree with that statement of Imran Khan and disagree with Nida. Thousands may die of COVID-19 if there is no lockdown, but millions will surely die of starvation if there is a long lockdown. 

The lockdown is misconceived, and must be lifted immediately.

Justice Markandey Katju retired from the Supreme Court in 2011

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK