Justice Markandey Katju and Dhruti Kapadia-
Should the lockdown be ended after the 3 week period announced by the Prime Minister expires on 14th April, or should it be continued thereafter? This is the difficult catch 22 choice which the authorities in India are facing.
Consequences of Lifting the Lockdown :
1) Ending the lockdown may result in a huge surge of coronavirus cases as people come together, thus increasing chances of infections by this highly contagious disease, and many more deaths:
2) During the lockdown, people have observed social distancing, and this meant that an infected person could not infect others. This social distancing will end when the lockdown is lifted as people will start meeting each other in schools, factories, offices, courts, trains, buses, etc. thereby spreading the disease.
It may be mentioned that coronavirus (or rather novel coronavirus, which seems to be a mutant of the earlier coronavirus which caused colds, flu, etc ) is a highly infectious disease that spreads rapidly when social distancing is not maintained. A single person may infect half a dozen others, and each one of these half a dozen may infect half a dozen more, and so on. This is like a chain reaction in an atomic bomb. Very soon a single infected person (who may not even be aware that he is infected since often the symptoms do not appear in an infected person for a long time) may infect thousands ( as probably the Markaz in Nizamuddin of Tablighi Jamaat did ).
3) It will be endangering millions if factories reopen with thousands of workers, business houses where staff starts working, courts start normal functioning with tens of thousands of lawyers, clerks, litigants, etc crowded together, institutions like schools and colleges re-open where children start going about their day to day activity, because even if one or two in the crowd has been the victim of COVID-19 it being very contagious would, in turn, spread to their close contacts who in turn will carry the infection to hundreds of other people they will be meeting and coming in touch with. This, in turn, will spread like an atomic chain reaction to, lacs of people.
4) There is little medical testing in India for coronavirus as India simply does not have the medical kits / equipment including ventilators etc in comparison to its huge population of 135 crores. Due to this deficiency, it is often impossible to predict who a person infected with COVID-19 actually is ( since often an infected person has no symptoms of the disease ).
5)Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao is in favor of extending the lockdown in his state. Whereas Maharashtra, Rajasthan, UP, Assam, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have indicated that they would not fully lift the restrictions after next Tuesday.
Consequences of Not Lifting the Lockdown:
1)To continue the shutdown may result in poor people dying of hunger in large numbers as they are deprived of food, work and money, like the immigrant workers in cities who had to trek hundreds of kilometers on foot to their villages.
80-90% of Indian workers are in the unorganized sector of the economy, and these are daily wage earners, having no security of tenure. The shutdown has hit these ( and their families) the hardest.
2) Reports are coming from rural areas that because of the shutdown farmers cannot sell their produce, as there is no transport to take it to mandis, besides the fact that no one is coming to the mandis. Hence their produce is often perishing unsold
3) The business houses are sufferers as the economy is crumbling. International exports have taken a steep dive, e.g. the diamond industries. Huge infrastructure projects are at a standstill due to the lockdown. Many industries have closed down throwing lacs of workers into unemployment.
4) Article 19(1)(b) grants Indian citizens the right to assemble peacefully, Article 19(1)(d) grants them the right to move freely throughout India, and Article 19(1(g) grants them the right to practice any profession, trade or vocation. All these fundamental rights are violated by long shutdowns.
Thus, India is in a catch 22 situation, with no light at the end of the tunnel. The future, therefore, is grim.
[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India and Dhruti Kapadia, Advocate and Solicitor, Bombay High Court, and Advocate on Record, Supreme Court. The views expressed are their own].