August 02, 2020

TRIPURA: Crisis in Every Sphere and Thus Desperate Bid to Suppress People’s Anger

Haripada Das

SLOPPY handling of the Covid-19 pandemic by the BJP-IPFT coalition government forced Tripura to the brink of community spread. The tiny state’s Covid-19 infection tally has crossed 4,000 with 17 deaths, whereas in the beginning of the nationwide lockdown (March-end) the number was one or two – people with history of travel outside.

The facts that concern everybody are that a good number of Covid-19 patients have no travel history and the infection tally is growing in leaps and bounds. In the beginning of unlock-I (June 1), migrant workers, students and patient groups started coming back to the state from outside by rail, road and air routes. The number of returnees is more than 25,000.  The government of Tripura, instead of conducting Covid-19 test on all of them, decided to collect sample from only one in every five persons and asked them to remain in home quarantine for 14 days. Health experts apprehend that the sudden spurt in Covid-19 positive cases is the consequence of allowing a huge number of people coming from outside to go home without being tested. 

Considering the locality-based number of Covid-19 positive cases, presently 79 areas of the state have been declared as containment zones from where the inhabitants are prohibited to come out for a particular period. No one from outside is allowed to go inside the containment zones. The government shed all its responsibilities after declaring an area as containment zone and setting up police check posts at entry points. The government shows least concern about the daily necessities of the inhabitants. Serious crisis is faced by daily wage-earners for managing their two square meals, as they are barred from going out to work. Sympathetic neighbours, some social organisations and the CPI(M) helped residents of many containment zones with rice, vegetables and other necessities. At Udaipur, the residents of one containment zone burst out in anger against the utter neglect of the government and refused to receive relief materials from the BJP.

Similar distressing condition is prevailing in villages bordering Bangladesh, where day-time curfew has been clamped for the last fortnight to contain spread of the virus through people coming from the neighbouring country. The residents of curfew zone, particularly the poorer sections, are frantically urging for help from the government. But their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Till now 15 designated centres have been set up for the treatment of coronavirus patients. Befittingly, these Covid-19 centres can be called ‘detention centres’, without any bed, treatment infrastructure, basic drugs and medical staff, including doctors. Food served in these centres is so sub-standard, the aggrieved inmates refuse to accept. Under this circumstance, relatives of most of the patients inside the Covid-19 centres serve food to them from their home. A good number of Covid-19 centres have no arrangements of sufficient water and electricity. So far, as immunity building is the key factor to fight the novel coronavirus, staying inside the Covid centre, hardly any patient is expected to build up immunity in this sordid atmosphere. The government of Tripura has declared a three-day total lockdown from July 27-29. Earlier, on July 5, one-day lockdown was imposed. But the government is not making the people aware of the purpose of such unscientific, sporadic lockdown that hit hard the toiling masses.

A truckload of fish worth Rs 13 lakh, imported from Bangladesh, was looted by the ruling party mafias at Akhaura border checkpost on July 12. Since then, border trade through this post has been suspended. The Bangladesh business community strongly protested against this incident. Who is the kingpin behind this loot and who were the accomplices? Though it is an open secret, the police had taken no action because the perpetrators were musclemen of the ruling party. This has created serious repercussion in diplomatic relations between the two countries and also in export-import business with Bangladesh. But surprisingly, the chief minister, who is also in charge of the home department, did not utter a single word condemning the loot nor directed the police to take legal action against those responsible for this shocking incident.

The BJP’s pet media created a sort of fanfare for about a month with a hoax claim Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb would open up the water transport from Haldia port (West Bengal) to Sonamura (Tripura) via the Gomati river. The ship (later modified as small ship) would start from Haldia port with a consignment of four containers on July 14 and it will wade upstream to reach Sonamura on July 18. A floating jetty has been constructed on war footing on the Gomati river in Sonamura costing nearly one crore rupees. July 18, the day fixed for the ship to touch the Sonamura jetty, was declared as a “historic day” when the new avenue of so-called cheap water transportation becomes a reality. But, prior to the sailing of the ship from Haldia, the shipping ministry disallowed this water route due to lake of navigability in the Gomati river. Thus, the ministry diverted the consignment to Chittagong Port from where the goods will be transported to Tripura by roadways. The whims of the chief minister to claim personal credit cost the state exchequer nearly Rs one crore at a time the state is running under stringent financial crisis even to manage the Covid-19 pandemic. 

While the poor are in a serious crisis due to the lack of government relief, the Covid-19 restrictions and lockdown also have adverse effect on agriculture, trade and business, transport, health sector, etc. But, whenever the CPI(M) and other opposition parties attempt to stage demonstrations on the urgent issues of the people in a disciplined way adhering to Covid-19 restrictions, the government suppress the people’s anger by brute force. FIR is being lodged against those leading protest demonstrations.  Ironically, events linked to the ruling party, including the inauguration of an NGO by the wife of the chief minister, are allowed though they brazenly violate social distancing norms.

Summing up the state of affairs, CPI(M) Tripura state secretary Gautam Das, in a press briefing on July 25, lashed out against the double standards of the government. He asked why the government does not clarify the basis of declaration of three-day lockdown from July 27-29. Was it on the basis of recommendation of any health expert or out of individual whims, he asked. The central government on one hand has been providing ample opportunity to the bourgeois, both national and international, to loot the country by way of exploiting the millions of masses and on the other, it is taking away fundamental rights, democratic and political rights enshrined in the constitution so that all kinds of protests could be crushed.

At an all-party meeting held on April 29, the opposition parties mooted some constructive suggestions. The government declared some relief packages for the poor and migrant workers. But after two months, a departmental report served on the basis of a query from our MLAs reveals that one-fourth of the assured relief package was not implemented. Work under MGNREGA and Tripura Urban Employment Programme (TUEP) was done for limited man-days.

Gautam Das reiterated the following demands for early implementation:
1.  Convene another all-party meeting to make the parties aware of the latest coronavirus situation and the relief measures so far implemented.
2.  Provide MNREGA and TUEP work in an extensive way so that purchasing power of the people may be raised. 
3.  Provide 10 kg rice per head per month and Rs 10,000 per family to non-tax payee families for next six months. 
4.  Covid-19 centres must be managed with humanitarian approach providing with all logistic support.
5.  Stop suppression of democratic movements which are organised adhering to Covid-19 restrictions.