While there are personal benefits to being stuck inside homes, the pandemic has taught us the importance of investing in and improving the public health infrastructure.

Senior citizen wearing black trousers and black vest walking along a pathImage for representation
Features Coronavirus Monday, July 13, 2020 - 12:42

‘Man proposes, God disposes’ goes the old saying. That’s exactly the phrase I would use to describe my current status. My wife and I landed in Bengaluru at the end of February 2020 to stay with our daughter for around 3 weeks, planning to return to our home in Chennai before the end of March. The sudden lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to stay put in Bengaluru, where we remain till date.

Though I’m a senior citizen, I’m used to regular intense walking, birdwatching and photography in the mornings in the park nearby. Two days before the lockdown, the park was closed for the public and residents began going on walks on the roads around the park. Once the lockdown was enforced, people were not allowed to walk outside even with masks, often being chased away by the police making the rounds in their vehicle with sirens blaring. Despite this, some people continued to walk in groups without maintaining physical distance and without masks, displaying altogether irresponsible behaviour.

Once the lockdown eased up, we started walking within our street using masks to cover our mouths and noses. Initially, even masks and hand sanitisers were in demand and not easily available. I began doing my exercises on the terrace. While most people initially imagined that the lockdown would last only for a short period, there continues to be a tense situation despite relaxations as cases continue to rise. When things will become near normal and when interstate transport will resume is a moot question to which no one can predict the answer.

One of the few positives that the current situation has presented is the enormous reduction in the level of atmospheric pollution. How else does one explain the presence and easy sighting of many unusual birds in our residential area of Banaswadi, which are otherwise seen only in large parks or wooded areas? You hear the chirping and calling of the birds right from the early morning. Even during the daytime, you can hear the shriek, hoot or the koo-ooo call of birds as an absolute calm pervades the atmosphere. You feel as though you’re living in the countryside rather than in one of India’s busiest urban centres.

Among the less common birds I’ve sighted in trees nearby or our terrace or balcony are the Golden Oriole, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Thick-billed Flowerpecker, Tailorbird, Shikra, White-cheeked Barbet and scores of Sunbirds, besides the more commonly sighted Asian Koel, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Black Kite, Dove, Common Myna and the Crow Pheasant. This despite our area being a residential locality with no shrubland, wetland or water bodies in close proximity. During this period, it was a feast for both my ears and eyes along with a serene atmosphere.

We have escaped the oppressive heat of Chennai and are able to stay with our daughter for a longer period. That’s a blessing in disguise for me. I feel more charged with energy and am able to involve myself in gardening activities.

On a larger issue concerning the nation, this pandemic has taught us the importance of investing in and improving enormously the public health infrastructure in our country. It’s the government hospitals, with their limited facilities, that are taking care of COVID-19 patients to a large extent, though to a smaller extent private hospitals have chipped in. But they’re not geared for a pandemic of gigantic proportions that we’re facing now. The quality and level of maintenance of the public health system in most states is abysmally low. In a few states it is passable, though much more needs to be done.

One can hope that we will tide over this crisis in another 3 or 4 months; but there is no guarantee that we may not be visited by another health crisis of this magnitude in the future. Both the central and state governments should allot more budget for revamping the existing facilities to a great extent and create new amenities in the public health domain. It should be made obligatory on the part of private hospitals to offer health services at affordable charges.

There are a host of problems like the plight of migrant labourers, lack of food and ration for the poor and others who lost their jobs, farmers’ travails, and closure of small and medium industries and revival of economy, which this pandemic has thrown at us. It’s for the government, both central and states, to draw useful lessons from this and rearrange the priorities of fund allocation. The concept of development should focus on the upliftment of the poor and the marginalised sections of society. Priority should be given to health, food security, education, rural, small and medium industries, and infrastructure projects. Unless the funds allocated for all these essential services are properly spent by the rulers and a sense of moral responsibility ingrained in them, only laws will not mend people. The new Parliament complex, bullet train and others advancements can wait for some time.

KM Vedapuri is a ground water consultant who practised in both the public and private sector in India for over three decades, now retired and settled in Chennai.

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