On the day Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant admitted that Goa is in the community transmission stage of the virus, Carmona in Salcette, which has no case of COVID-19 decided on a voluntary shutdown of business and also to restrict movement of the people. This, according to the Sarpanch is a preventive measure against the spread of the virus. With a rise in cases in Sanquelim area, the merchants association of the Sanquelim market has opted to down shutters for four days, while Cuncolim town too is on a similar mode from Sunday, while Sancoale panchayat also observed a voluntary shutdown.
Panchayats are falling upon Section 60 of The Goa Panchayat Raj Act that makes a ‘provision for carrying out within the panchayat area any other work or measure which is likely to promote the health, safety, education, comfort, convenience or special or economic well-being of the inhabitants of the Panchayat area’ to impose the lockdowns, but are now being careful to state that these lockdowns are voluntary. This caution is being exercised because, when earlier this month panchayats had shut down, it had been clearly stated by the government that the village bodies have no powers to take such decisions.
Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant had said that panchayats cannot decide on lockdown and that if anyone wants to stay indoors, it should be voluntary. Deputy Chief Minister Chandrakant Kavelkar had echoed the Chief Minister’s view and said that the lockdowns announced by panchayats do not have the requisite legal standing. Yet, they are continuing to do so, with the government unable to stop this from happening. Yet, hardly two weeks later, panchayats are doing so all over again. Legally, the panchayats cannot take such an extreme measure, and any lockdown has to be decided by the government, depending upon the gravity of the situation and the purpose that it intends to achieve by keeping a place locked down.
There are containment zones and micro containment zones in the State, but if the government has not closed down a wider area – like an entire village of town – then it is because it sees no purpose being achieved by this. Yet, it has not acted against the panchayats that are scrambling to lock themselves up stating that it is to keep the people safe. Will locking down as a preventive measure give the results that panchayats like Carmona hope to achieve? The reasoning that panchayats give for the lockdowns are mainly to keep the people safe. But, given the spread of the virus, and the admission that community transmission stage has begun, how long can panchayats keep businesses in their jurisdictions closed and the people at home?
The nationwide lockdowns served the purpose of delaying the spread of the virus, giving the State machinery the time to get organised to manage the spread of COVID once the nation went into the unlock mode. Whether the States used this period effectively is a different matter of discussion. What is being stressed here is that it is not proper for local bodies, at the village and town levels, to use the lockdown measures without a proper understanding of what these are meant for.
Aside from panchayats, gated housing societies in some areas of the State have also been strictly checking outsiders entering their premises, at times even refusing entry to non-residents. Such measures are outcomes of panic and the lack of a proper understanding of the situation. If safety measures of social distancing, wearing masks and sanitising of hands are sufficient to protect oneself from the virus, is there a necessity of lockdowns at village levels?