Representational image.

Over the last one month or so Assam has been highly successful in confronting the Covid-19 threat. The Covid-19 landscape might have looked many-fold healthier in the state had the NIzamuddin Markaz authority and the Tablighi Jamaat leadership not played spoilsport in the fight against Covid-19.

In the matter of fighting the pandemic, Assam has come out with astounding success with state health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma leading from the front. So far only one person has died of killer virus; many Covid-19 patients have been cured while some others are recovering in the first phase.

It may be years before Covid-19 is finally defeated. While dark clouds of coronavirus continue to hover over the state with a few new cases of Covid-19 positive emerging, the stupendous performance hitherto rendered by the state health department may be looked upon as a silver lining by the multitude in the future battle against the killer virus.

While, as of now, Assam may be in safe hands on the Covid-19 front, several uphill challenges are sure to swoop down like hawks on the Assam government in the coming months as the lockdown relaxes and finally gets withdrawn.

It may be recalled that for about a year, along with the rest of India, Assam was marked by a rapid economic slowdown with the financial health of the state nose-diving towards the rock-bottom. The outcome being loss of jobs, growing unemployment and the like with the working class bearing the brutal brunt. Needles to state that sky-rocketing corruption which virtually constitute the order of the day, only served as a catalyst in accelerating the economic slowdown.

With the state economy trapped in a long dark tunnel with no light at the other end, the much needed national lockdown in the fight against Covid-19 came into force in the last week of March. All trade & commerce and other economic activities came to a grinding halt.

Over the decades, Assam has been maintaining a dismal record of being one of the most backward states almost on all fronts – financial, employment, rural development, education, roads, irrigation, the list goes on and on.
As of now, in the face of the shuddering economic stagnation coupled with decades of exploitation of workers, a labour crisis is almost a certainty as the lockdown eases in the coming months.

Several months prior to the publication of the final NRC, a large number of labourers had left for their native places to attend to hearings held at far off districts. A few were just beginning to return to their place of work in the towns and the cities when CAA emerged accompanied by protests, police baton charge, firing and arrest, causing them to leave for the safety of their homes.

Again, even in normal times, almost as a rule vast majority of employers are highly erratic in payment of dues to workers. On this count only a handful of workers may be lucky. Now that the lockdown is on and the labour force had to make a hasty retreat to their native places, a huge amount could be due to them from their employers.

It is anybody guess if those workers would ever be paid their pending dues. On this count the exploited workers are better qualified to comment. Accordingly, one may very well guess as to how many of such workers would return to their place of work in the near future.
With the state economy seemingly in the lap of bankruptcy, the economic experts, so called think tanks, highly influential pseudo experts and the high and mighty ‘know-all’ bureaucrats will certainly play a pivotal role in framing a roadmap for revival of the shattered financial health of Assam.

In this context one only hopes that the roadmap makers take into account the bitter ground reality on the labour front. Or else the roadmap may look like a plan to ‘build castles in Spain’. The need is for food, shelter and clothing and not for ivory towers. The high-ups may keep in mind that sans the labour force, all nation building activities – industrial, construction and others – may even fail to take off.

Further, one should not forget that the multi-headed hydra of corruption is always at the centre stage although the state’s financial health is sandwiched between the devil and the deep sea. The ground reality is much worse than even a Catch-22 situation.

Whereas there may be no end to challenges ahead, the greatest challenge that Dispur would certainly face is the impending scourge of annual floods in several waves and erosion during the approaching Monsoon.

While human beings and livestocks may perish in significant numbers, thousands may land up without food and shelter on highways and other high lands to mend for themselves and at relief camps in the most unhygienic conditions.

It may be worthwhile watching as to how the administration would counter Covid-19 and maintain social distance during the scourge of flood and erosion?

As per media reports, the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) has already prepared a roadmap to counter floods amid Covid-19 pandemic. While flood fury follows only one rule – madness without method- it remains to be seen as to how far the ASDMA plan finally works and how much of it gets washed away.

Further, with the state economy in a shambles, it may be catastrophic if all theories, logic, calculations, permutations, expert views et al in the preparation of the new economic roadmap fail to converge to a single point from where reconstruction of the economy may begin while simultaneously confronting Covid-19 and several waves of floods devastation effectively.

The question arises if at the end of the day all the good work done by the health department hitherto in the fight against Covid-19 would go down the drain because of the frightening economic strangulation. One shudders at the thought if the impending floods would cause Covid-19 to emerge as a much powerful killer virus.

Talmizur Rahman

Talmizur Rahman is a Guwahati based senior journalist and commentator. He can be reached at rahmantmz5@gmail.com