A Distinct Disconnect

Saturday, 06 March 2021



A Distinct Disconnect

Swapnil Bharali | June 13, 2020 13:43 hrs

With just 3,900 odd cases, Assam’s Covid Control has been absolutely magnificent. 

This has been acknowledged almost universally, veteran journalist Shekhar Gupta included, even though the extremely stringent measures adopted by health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma proved to be rather irksome for Gupta’s scheme of things. Two journalists he had sent to cover the Covid situation in the northeast were apparently kept in quarantine for an unduly prolonged period which irked Gupta to the point where he came out with a video to vent his irritation.

Of late, despite these good tidings about Assam, one is however beginning to feel a disconnect of sorts as far as the flow of news from the government is concerned. Also, there seems to be a certain lack of coordination between departments whereby the correct news about the mushrooming containment zones in the city and the sprouting Covid-19 positive cases therein seems to be going missing. 

The one-night containment of Lamb Road is a case in point. Clamped overnight after having picked up a supposed Covid-19 patient who had travelled from Jalpaiguri and who had been discharged just a day earlier from hotel quarantine with all government papers, the stretch of Lamb Road remained a containment zone indefinitely for one whole day with no government order coming out about its status. 

We at G Plus were given to understand from the concerned authorities that the announcement would be made as soon as the heaps of paper work were completed. By evening of Thursday, with the containment zone tag still intact, the district administration came out with four orders in which Lamb Road did not feature.
The patient himself became concerned and tweeted tagging the health minister as to why an entire area was contained against the present rule of just the particular house where he had stayed. He got a response from the minister saying that should not have been the case and thereafter, later in the night, the containment zone tag was removed and the stretch opened. 

This is just one case in point but ever since Unlock 1 has kicked in and the city’s activities have begun to normalize, there has been a noticeable decline in the frequency of the health minister’s press conferences. Also, his tweets are often found to be vague and not as crisp and clear as they were earlier. Moreover, his deputy, minister of state for health, Pijush Hazarika’s recent mention to a TV news channel about the possibility of the government locking down Assam once again comes as an uncoordinated utterance not backed by a concrete decision and has thereby only added to the confusion. The mushrooming containment zones (there are currently 36 all across the city and counting) gives a direct indication of a community spread which the government has chosen not to admit as yet. 

Everything considered, the laxity within the society towards coronavirus infection has surfaced. Videos have been shared of people swarming the fish market at Bhetapara throwing the caution of social distancing to the winds. The markets and commercial areas of the city are witnessing uncontrollably normal economic activity like loading and unloading of trucks carrying essential commodities with the obvious required crowding. All these point towards the whole intent of the prolonged lockdown being flushed down the drain. 

Further confusion is created by a large number of supposed “media houses” coming up with the latest Covid-19 positive cases sprouting from within the city’s localities on social media. These come without any kind of government verification and are as believable as any other news that may be genuine or fake. To put it simply, of late, the disconnect is truly visible and is something that does not inspire confidence. 

Clarity, coordination and proper news dissemination is today a reasonable expectation that the public at large can hope to have. And it is here that the government seems to be failing. Checking the tweets of the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) for news has become an exercise in futility. The chief minister’s tweets are no different. Left to one man - the health minister – one gets the feeling that there is only so much he can do. But we do need the connect back.

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