"What Can We Do?": UP Villagers Worry Over Coronavirus Lockdown

Daily wage labourers and farmers in a UP village are worried about loss of livelihood and income because of being confined to their homes by the lockdown to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus

'What Can We Do?': UP Villagers Worry Over Coronavirus Lockdown

UP villages struggle under coronavirus lockdown

Lucknow:

On the newly-built highway that leads from Uttar Pradesh's capital Lucknow to Sultanpur, around 150 kilometres away, there are hardly any vehicles. UP Police have zealously enforced the lockdown ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stop the spread of the contagious COVID-19 virus and only emergency services personnel, or those involved in the door delivery of essential goods and services, are allowed on the roads.

As the Prime Minister's "total lockdown" enters its second day, life in cities has become difficult enough, with strict curfews and restrictions on movement. The closure of most shops - only grocery stores, vegetable shops and pharmacies have been allowed to function - has also hit daily life hard, with people panic buying and hoarding essential food items.

Sadly life in rural India, where some people depend on daily wages for their food and shelter and others forced to stay at home worry about the loss of their crops and livelihood, has been hit harder.

Around 30 kilometres out of Lucknow we turn towards Mahura Khurd, a village of 1,500 people that is part of Lucknow district. Here too, on rural roads, everything is shut and people are indoors.

"The police come every morning and warn us using loudspeakers. So we think it is best to stay indoors rather than facing the wrath of the police by going out," a village tells. He does so from inside his home and says he would rather not be named.

In the village we also meet Subash Verma, 50, a farmer who owns around an acre of land.

Mr Verma too has been confined to his home for a week now and is worried about the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world, leaving over four lakh people infected and killing nearly 20,000.

But he is also worried about harvesting his winter crop - wheat.

"I can delay it for 15-20 days till mid-April. But if this stretches on, there will be many issues. From my field to the city, there will be a problem if I am not allowed to go out. How will I cut my crop? The next crop will be delayed too... it's a vicious cycle," he tells NDTV.

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Packets of food being distributed among the lockdown to halt the spread of the COVID-19 virus

"Prices (of vegetables) are already up. What was selling for Rs 10 is now Rs 15. Vegetable vendors say, 'What can we do? The problem is the chain of supply'," he says, adding that even vegetable shopping has become difficult as cops circle to stop them from leaving their homes.

Staying in the village we also meet Mohammed Raees, 30, a tailor who works at a stitching unit in Lucknow.

"Every day I used to walk two kilometres to the highway and take a tempo to Lucknow. Then I walk another four kilometres to work. I get paid weekly. But my unit has not worked for a week," he says.

When asked about the Prime Minister's appeal to private employers to not cut wages of daily labourers during the lockdown, Mr Raees says: "The manager told me that if the unit does not make money, then we can't be paid".

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Farmers are worried about harvesting their winter crops

On our way back to Lucknow, we notice local grocery shops, or kirana stores, have been half-shuttered. There is hardly anyone around.

The Uttar Pradesh government, like those of other states, has claimed it is arranging for door delivery of essential goods but there is no independent verification of how effective that system, if there indeed is one in place, is right now.

India went under the "total lockdown" at Tuesday midnight, with PM Modi warning people to "forget about leaving home in the next 21 days".

The strict measures comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country continue to surge - it has now crossed 600 - and the deaths continue to mount - two were reported this morning, taking the toll to at least 13, as per data from the Health Ministry.

The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on India's economy has been highlighted, repeatedly, by opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra.

This evening Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, whom the Prime Minister had tasked with analysing that impact, unveiled a Rs 1.7 lakh crore package and said "no one will go hungry".