RAJDHANI EXPRESS BRINGS CORONAVIRUS TO GOA!

BY RAJAN NARAYAN

LUXURY: The first few cases of Covid-19, which to the shock of health officials in Goa proved positive, were travellers who came to Goa on the Rajdhani Express for a summer holiday or to celebrate their honeymoons. Regrettably, as the honeymoon couples had berths close to those who tested positive, they are also being forced to discover the joys of marriage in quarantine!

AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the number of Covid-19 cases in green zone Goa kept increasing exponentially. The coronavirus has not been coming to Goa by the luxury cruise liners and Goan seafarers employed by them. None of the sailors who have been discharged and threatened in Goa have tested positive for Covid-19. This is good news because there are a large number of Goan seafarers stranded in various parts of the world who are yet to return. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant is seeking the postponement of the return of over 800 Goan seafarers stranded in Italy who were expected to arrive in Goa in chartered flights. None of the Goans working in the Gulf and back in Goa by chartered flights have any symptoms of Covid-19.

all patients outsiders

The coronavirus favourite means of transport seems to be the Delhi-Trivandrum train which halts at Margao. Some of the other Covid-19 positive cases have come to Goa by the Konkan Railway. There are some stray cases which have come in private vehicles. One of the MLAs have been quoted as saying that most of the people who are coming to Goa by train are either those who are on holiday or honeymooners. There have been no cases reported so far of Goans who returning to Goa having tested positive for Covid-19. Which means that fortunately for us there is been no community transmission in Goa. Which in simple words means that there has been no secondary transmission or cases of Goans being infected by other resident Goans.
Though it is too early to tell and perhaps the greatest risk is of Goans who have tested positive having met their friends and relative. Those who have come on a holiday in turn may have infected the owner and staff of the hotel they have been staying in and other guest staying in the hotel. So the coronavirus at least so far is still a bhaile. There are demands from MLAs like Michael Lobo and even Chief Minister Pramod Sawant demanding that the Delhi trains should not be allowed to halt in Goa. There also demands from Goan community leaders against the resumption of road traffic by private or Kadamba buses to Goa.

stir to return home

The other side of the coin is migrants of others states stranded in Goa wanting to return to their home states. Earlier in the week there was an agitation demanding special trains to be arranged to take back Bengali and Oriya migrant workers stranded in Goa. The hospitality industry and particularly the shacks business in various parts of Goa is staffed primarily by workers from Bengal and Orissa. They don’t want to stay back in paradise despite the big tips they get from foreign tourists sunbathing on the beaches.
There are also demands from other stranded migrants to return to their native places. A bus load of people from Sikkim working in Goa are being transported to Bangalore from where they may take a train back home. Migrants from UP and Rajasthan have already gone back by the special trains organised by the Centre. According to the Chief Minister himself there are as many as 1.5 lakh migrants from MP, UP, Jharkand and Chhattisgarh who have registered for berths in the special trains and it would appear that the only job in which the people of Jharkhand have achieved excellence is in cricket. The former captain of the Indian Cricket Team which won the World Cup twice is Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
The only migrant workers who do not seem to be interested in returning to their own states are the residents of Karnataka. This is probably because many of the Kannadiggas, Malayalis, Maharashtrians, are second and third generation migrants who have decided to settle in Goa. Who in fact speak better Konkani than many of non-resident Goans!

when will covid-19 go?

AND a few stray thoughts on the worry that is in everyone’s mind worldwide. Do we have to learn to live with our good friend coronavirus? There are no signs of it fading away like earlier infections called Ebola and Swine flu. To the contrary the number of coronavirus cases continue to zoom both in India and the rest of the world. India has the dubious distinction of having the fourth largest number of Covid-19 cases in the world. Next only to the United States with a daily average of 24,329; Brazil 12,980; Russia 9,870.
India has been registering an average of 4,418 cases per day but the numbers are increasing. The perception among epidemiologists is that Covid-19 will peak at some stage after which it would start declining. This has happened in many countries like Germany, Spain and Italy which had much higher number of Covid-19 cases and much more serious lockdowns. India had to skip Ramzan and Eid festivities because of coronavirus and for the first time Good Friday and Easter were not celebrated in Vatican City by the Pope. There have been no fresh cases reported from Wuhan in China from where the pandemic appears to have started.

second wave feared

Except that fears have been expressed that there will be a second wave of coronavirus which might be more virulent than the first phase. This is what seems to have happened in India. Just when we thought that Covid-19 has reached its peak and would subside there was a sudden new leap with Maharashtra, New Delhi and Rajasthan heading the list. Indeed, everyday New Delhi, Mumbai and Gujarat, are setting new records. The total number of cases of coronavirus has crossed the 1 lakh mark with infections doubling in just a little over 12 days.
Unlike in the case of other countries India which entered phase four of lockdown on May 17 is witnessing higher number of cases with every passing day. Now Goa has joined the list of states with the infection catching more people. If the number of cases continue to rise as it has in Dharavi in Mumbai or Nizzammudin in Delhi it would wipe out the next tourism season in Goa. With the overwhelming majority of those employed in hospitality and fishing returning to their native place there will not be enough man power to cater to tourists even if tourism it revives.

no infra in goa

Unlike metros like Mumbai and the national capital Delhi, Goa does not have the infrastructure to deal with a rapidly increasing number of Covid-19 cases. If for instance of the one lakh odd Goan seafarers stranded in Italy turn out to be positive on their return any day now Goa will not have enough space to even quarantine the Covid-19 affected suspects. The number of beds let alone ventilators that would be needed is not even one per cent of what we would require if Covid-19 cases trickle in and rising at the rate of a 1,000 or more every day. Let us not forget the entire population of Goa is only 15 lakh as against the eight lakh population of Dharavi alone in Mumbai. Everyone is packing their bags for summer holiday to Goa!
Which has been the tradition as in the good old days when Goans staying outside Goa in Mumbai or in London would spend their summer vacations on the beaches. Where the children would play and the young men and women flirt under the watchful eyes of their parents. Many of the marriages in the 50s and the 60s were initiated on the beaches of Goa.
But in the currently on-going summer vacations the beaches are deserted out of fear of Covid-19. I recall an old friend who runs a PR agency in Mumbai, who is also called Rajan, who called me just a week ago asking me about the formalities for coming to Goa where he has a holiday home. I am sure he has now changed his mind because of the ferocious outbreak of Covid-19 in Goa.
AND a few stray thoughts on why migrants in the thousands are returning to their home states and villages. Of the four lakh odd migrants about two lakh work in the hospitality industry. Shacks are a favourite with migrants from Bengal and Orissa. Even before Covid-19 hit Goa, the opening of the shacks was delayed because of decisions to do with allotment of shacks. Bengali and Oriya migrants have been working in large numbers not only in shacks but even other restaurants and five-star hotels. The tragedy is that they are all daily wage earners.

LIVING ON SAVINGS

WITH the lockdown they waited living on their savings for the first two weeks after the lockdown was declared on March 22, 2020. Since there was no sign of any tourism season reviving they decided they wanted to go back home. Besides migrants working in the hospitality industry a lot of migrants were working as salesmen on the shops both in Panjim and other shopping districts. With all the shops closed till recently they also decided they would be better off at home. For instance a large number of the barbers in Panjim and elsewhere are from UP, including the one from whom I got my regular haircut and shave. Even in more upmarket beauty parlours like Neomi’s the bulk of barbers and hair dressers are Muslims. The old haircutting community of Mala who were called barberias and had their saloons around Café Bhosle circle have all probably become government servants.
During the lockdown not only commercial establishments but even factories big and small shut down. Which meant that industrial workers with some learned or trained skills like mechanics were without jobs. The larger crisis can be dramatized by the example of the media and our own case. The newspaper business was very hard hit as rumours circulated probably by visual media was that that coronavirus could be transmitted through newspapers. Many of the upmarket gated colonies and so called Portuguese villas would not even let the newspaper vendor enter their premises. This despite the fact that there is general agreement that the most authentic information is provided by newspapers and many seek a newspaper in the morning. You could not rely on WhatsApp or even the fiercely loud and competitive TV channels which specialise more on views than news. Since all establishments including the big advertisers in Goa like the casinos and builders were shut newspapers ceased to get advertising and revenue. If you open any of the half-a-dozen or more newspapers in English and Marathi published from Goa you can see for yourself the scarcity of ads.

ONLY DEATH ADS

THE only exception being death ads which make up the bulk of advertising in some dailies like the Herald. Even the tiatr ads which are a significant source of income to the newspaper disappeared because public gatherings or entertainment would bring together large number of people and social distancing would not be possible. Public meetings were barred during the lockdown period. The provocation being the belief that the coronavirus was transmitted between human beings and it was necessary to maintain at least the distance of one meter or “dhedgaj” as the Hindi media started calling it. Long before Covid-19 Central and State governments had cut down sharply on advertising in newspapers. The All India Association of Newspapers has estimated that at the time of the lockdown pending dues to the media from Central and State governments is more than Rs1,500 crore.

esg dues not recieved

In Goa for instance the State government has not paid the sizable advertisement revenue that is due for advertisements released for the International Film Festival of India in Goa. Even a proposal that half the amount due should be paid has not been honoured by the State government. With no income from advertisements which is the life blood of any media it became increasingly difficult to stay alive in the media. The worst hit is the print media because there is a huge hike in the cost of newsprint. The other problem is that of getting newsprint because due to the lockdown transportation was affected be it by road or air. So much so you could not get either local newsprint or imported newsprint. The print media tried switching to online editions but soon discovered that it was difficult to generate revenue. Even the established online newspapers depend on subscriptions, donations and very few advertisements. Even a small weekly like the Goan Observer is having a difficult time surviving as there is little advertisement income. Even money due from advertisers for ads released in the pre-lockdown period has not been coming in, the excuse being the offices are locked down. We have been keeping the Goan Observer alive by dipping into out slender savings to meet minimum expenditure on salaries, printing bills, rent and utilities. Even if the lockdown is lifted it will probably take another three months to recover pending dues and for the cycle of new advertising to revive.

obc delaying our loan

WE thought that we would for the first time in our 17 years of Goan Observer apply for a loan, since we are a small company. The Prime Minister and the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman have been endlessly talking about the support they are extending to small and medium businesses. But ultimately it is the bank which disburse loan money. And the banks have still not got over all the scams they were implicated in from the Vijai Mallya to Nirav Modi scams and they are reluctant to lend money. We are still waiting for a small Rs5 lakh loan from the Oriental Bank of Commerce at Miramar which to our misfortune has merged with the Punjab National Bank. We do not know whether the OBC has now decided to adopt the tradition of the PNB which is to lend only several crore to habitual defaulters! It is viscious cycle. Angirya, the Goan cruise liner owes us Rs 25,000. Since we have not recived payments we will face problems paying our other creditors like our printer who is a brother of the owner of Angriya. ESG gave all media ads for IFFI held in November last year they have been to clear their dues. Our total dues are about Rs 2 lakhs. I and Tara have been paying all our dues from our savings. Even though big promises are being made by the finance Minister under the MSME, the OBC with whom we have being banking for 18 years refuses to give us Rs 5 lakh loan.

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