Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government did not consult key ministries and states while imposing the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdown a year ago, according to an investigation by the BBC’s Jugal Purohit and Arjun Parmar.
The BBC filed more than 240 right to information applications with various Indian government departments – health, finance, disaster management – to find out if and how much they were consulted ahead of the lockdown.
The responses revealed that there is no evidence of key experts or government departments being consulted prior to the lockdown being implemented.
The home ministry, which played a key role in executing the lockdown, repeatedly rejected our request for information. It said the answers we sought were related to “strategic and economic interest and it also contains information which is held under fiduciary relationship and thus exempt from disclosure of information under section 8(1)(a) and (e) of Right to Information Act, 2005.”
The government has also denied a BBC request for a statement explaining why concerned departments were not consulted ahead of time.
The world’s ‘strictest’ lockdown
On 24 March last year, Mr Modi announced a complete lockdown across India to stem the spread of coronavirus cases.
India went into a lockdown early – it had confirmed just 519 cases and nine deaths at the time. Experts hoped that forcing people to stay home would halt the virus’ spread and give officials time to ramp up test and trace efforts as well as medical facilities.
But the 68-day shutdown – which the University of Oxford termed the world’s strictest – proved devastating for the poor, costing them jobs and, in some cases, their lives.
All services, expect hospitals, pharmacies and groceries, closed. Offices, schools, colleges and all public transport was suspended. Flights in and out of India were stopped.
The poor, especially undernourished children and pregnant women who rely on government programmes, found it difficult to access benefits. Immunisation programs were halted. People suffering from serious illnesses struggled to access crucial health services even in urban areas such as Mumbai and Delhi.
But the hardest hit were informal workers, who make up the bulk of India’s workforce – from domestic helps to street vendors to construction workers. They were suddenly left out of work and with no guarantee of when they would start earning again.
Experts believe the lack of consultation ahead of the lockdown led to local governments being ill-prepared for the exodus of migrant workers from cities to villages. Without any public transport, millions of them began walking them home and many died on the way in accidents or due to hunger and exhaustion.