Mens rea : is defined as the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime. For a murder, mens rea i.e., intention is important. But if death occurs by an act without the intention to do so then it is qualified as “culpable homicide not amounting to murder’, under section 304 of the Indian Penal Code. This section must be slapped against the union government for killing 16 migrant workers while going back to their villages in Maharashtra near Aurangabad who were run over by a goods train. By no means can it be qualified as an accident.
There are more than 300 non-Covid deaths reported in India since the #lockdown began. There are ghastly stories heard every day about migrant workers getting killed because of long walk from their work place back home and in some instances the distance travelled is more than a 1,000 kilometres. Then there are stories of death because of hunger and even non- availability of medical facilities because of the lockdown. A large number of deaths occurred because of suicides owing to fear, anxiety and other symptoms owing to the lockdown.
How long will this distress-health, economic, psychological, societal, continue, is not known; but the reality is that the situation is very precarious. The reality of living with the virus and living safely has to begin, earlier the better! For the simple reason; because the government at the centre has completely failed to isolate the virus and as reported, it, the virus, has already spread into the community. The best that the government at the centre is doing is to remain smug and allow the community to develop immunity. The tests for the virus are still one amongst the lowest in the world and unlike #Kerala, where the state government chased the virus and reached to every contact, isolated, tested and treated the patients, the central government is doing exactly the inverse.
Initially the government miserably failed to deal with the migrant workers in the cities by allowing them relief and habitat for a few day/months during the period of the lockdown. Later, because of pressure from various stakeholders, the #Central government allowed selective entry of the migrant people back to their state. By allowing some of the migrant workers to return home, rightly so, but without proper testing, institutional quarantine the government has risked the respective states with an avalanche of the virus in the offing. #Himachal Pradesh state government faltered and faltered badly in managing the influx of the migrant workers and students to the state. No doubt that the state in the initial days, i.e., during the first phase of the lockdown, did exemplary work by reaching out to almost all the 14,83,000 households in the state and enquired about the symptoms of virus and even mapped the movement of the people. It is because of this reason that the state was qualified in green and orange zones(6 districts in each).
All of that has now been completely eroded by a very unwise stance of the government to not to test the migrant workers and students while entering the state. A total number of 2,56,173 people from outside the state of HP has applied for entry permits. However, permission was given to about 54,000 and an equal number of people have sneaked through the borders. Since none of them were tested and only a scan of their body temperature was done, it did not mean that they were not carriers of the Covid virus. There are stories and anecdotes told by some of the migrant people that before entering the state, those who got permits, gulped in a tablet of paracetamol to ensure that their body temperature is normal. And this ‘normal’, now is turning into a real crisis in the state of HP.
The complacency of the state government can be deciphered from the fact that the director general of police in a recent statement, during the second phase of the lockdown had said that the state will be corona free in a day or two. A day after this statement, corona positive cases started sprouting in. Since the third phase of the lockdown began there are six cases reported from the state. Most of these cases have history of entry into the state. Cases were reported from Kangra, Mandi, Hamirpur, Chamba and Baddi in Solan district. The total number of corona positive cases in the state has touched 50 with three deaths, two in the state and one in Chandigarh.
Since all the #new cases are linked to the #influx migrants, there is no reliable data as to the total number of corona cases in the state. The testing is too low. Mere 0.1 per cent of the population is tested so far. The government has miserably failed, despite a strong foundation laid in the initial days of the lockdown in the state. Now the government is left to bank on the chance and probability equation and further tracing the contacts with the new cases, which are sprouting everyday. Realising its failure and the threat to the two medical colleges and hospitals of the state, the IGMC Shimla and Tanda Medical College Kangra, the Covid centres to treat corona positive patients are now shifted to Dharamshala and Mashobra hospitals from Tanda and IGMC respectively. At least this will save the hospital from random spread of infection.
The government must act fast to ensure that the spread of the virus is contained. There is a scope for large quarantine centres, but that option is now gone as the suspected infected people have already reached their homes. The state apparatus, however, can reach out to each household once again and at least speed up the testing of those who have a travel history to the state in the recent phase of the lockdown. Else, the state would land in a major disaster, with very little logistics available, and dearth of equipment, the situation would be very precarious.
Writer is the former deputy Mayor of Shimla. Views expressed are personal.