(Names have been changed to maintain privacy. Image is representational only)
The lockdown was necessary. Aparajita cannot say it was not. Especially in a densely populated country like ours. Without the lockdown, we would have been in a state similar to the US. There are people who are flouting guidelines, but for most part, people in her area in Kolkata are following the lockdown. There are a few positive cases near where she lives. One person who tested positive actually lives quite close. Two or three areas adjoining her own were sealed recently. The government has promised that in all hotspots and micro hotspots every single person will be tested free of cost. This is very good, an important initiative. Is she afraid? Aparajita chuckles, mere liye mujhe koi tension nahi ho raha hai. Likha hua hai toh hoga, nahi likha hai toh nahi hoga. I am taking precautions. Obeying the guidelines. Bekaar ka tension lekar kya fayda.
Aparajita and her husband run a medium sized company based in Kolkata with 1400 employees spread across the country. In the days leading up to the lockdown, Aparajita’s company put hand sanitizers in all offices. They also put a large bottle of hand sanitizer next to the biometric scanning machine, and everyone was asked to apply sanitizer before and after scanning their fingerprints. On each and every desk they put a small bottle of sanitizer, for all the employees. She doesn’t know if in Kolkata doctors wear gloves and masks while examining patients. Two of her relatives are government doctors. They are doing their best, that much she can say. They don’t really have protective gear, PPE has not come to the hospitals.
Economically, those who have jobs are in a relatively stable position right now. Businesspeople are at a very uneven keel at the moment. Aparajita and her husband started their company in 2003, with almost 800 employees. They had landed a pretty big project. Today the company has operations in multiple states. It is a vendor to the government; on whose behalf it provides a specialized educational service to underprivileged children and youth.
The ongoing lockdown has been a bad jolt for Aparajita’s company. Since the lockdown has come into force, work has completely stopped. Her company works on a project basis and each project has clearly set timelines. With every day that the lockdown is in place, work gets delayed further. At the moment they are running almost a month behind schedule. The problem is, pura payment atka hua hai. Government departments are not working, so, we cannot bill, we cannot get paid. But we have to pay salaries, we have to pay running costs.
She will have to think of something. Once the lockdown ends and work restarts, we have to figure out how to complete on-going work with the resources we have. For Aparajita’s company it is a chicken and egg situation. If we complete the on-going work, we will get new business. But how long and how well can we sustain in order to complete the ongoing work without getting new business and the advance that comes with it? The best she can hope for is that the lockdown doesn’t get extended. Though it seems likely that it will. But things cannot go on like this indefinitely. At some point, with all the necessary precautions in place, work has to restart. Kaam nahi karne se who will pay us? For people with jobs, their salaries are secured. But our payments are not.
Aparajita agrees with the widespread sentiment that a recession will follow the pandemic. Things will get worse. Some businesses will have to lay off employees, others will freeze hiring. Her company is amongst the latter. If they were thinking of diversifying services in a given geography, they will now have to reevaluate these ideas and focus on conserving resources. If in normal circumstances it takes 5 people to complete a task, now they might have to assign only 3 people to it. Things will be difficult, that’s true. But her business deals with the government. Those who run private businesses will have a very difficult time. For a business like hers, it’s a matter of time. For her the question is how long until work resumes. But for people jo din mein kamaake din mein hi khaata hai, it is a matter of survival. The vegetable seller, the fisherwoman, they are also doing business. For them the hit will be immense. The long march of migrant labour has already shown the reality of so many people in India. Her maid was telling her, they are supposed to get 5 kg of dal, but they are getting only 2 kgs. If they say something, unko woh bhi nahi milega. The leading newspapers of West Bengal have already covered this issue.
There was nothing for Aparajita’s company in the relief plan announced by the finance minister. In her understanding, there is no actual relief in the government’s announcement about relaxing EMI repayments. If she pays EMIs late, she will still pay the cumulative interest. So, it is not really a relief measure at all. Bekaar. Eyewash hai.
If the government says, okay, let the on-going projects continue, we will also give you new projects, that will definitely help Aparajita’s company. But for that she will have to take a chance, she will have to meet the people responsible, talk to them. All this does not happen over the phone.
Everybody in her company is working out of home, but the nature of the business is such that projects cannot be completed until work in completed in the field. Plus, some beneficiaries of the company’s services are in the remotest parts of India. They don’t always have internet connectivity. But Aparajita is clear, dekho sustain toh karna hi hai. We will have to think of some way. We are thinking about it already. Aisa toh nahi bol sakte ki sab band kar do. Aise nahi hota hai. Itna saara log kahaan jaayenge? So many people, so many families are depending on us. So, it is clear, sustain karna hai. Lekin kaise karna hai? Soch soch ke dimaag kharaab ho raha hai.
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