The Punjab Government’s order on observing one-hour silence every Saturday as a mark of respect to those who lost their lives to Covid-19 may be noble in intent, but people should be spared this harassment. The government has sought the participation of civil society, religious organisations and NGOs to ensure people’s participation and also directed that intra-city and intra-district vehicular traffic not be allowed. Traffic on the state and national highways has been exempted, but commuters complained of inconvenience with vehicles not being allowed to move in towns within the stipulated hour. Long queues were reported with nakas being set up and people travelling to faraway places getting stuck in traffic jams.
The decision is not without a precedent. A year ago, PM Modi urged the citizens to light lamps, candles and torches for nine minutes as a symbolic message in the fight against coronavirus to thank the frontline warriors and the essential service providers. The practice of observing the Earth Hour towards the end of March entails turning off non-essential lights for an hour as a show of commitment towards the preservation of planet earth, and the importance of nature has been renewed in no uncertain terms by the onset of the pandemic.
The state government’s decision may be a preventive measure so that people avoid congregations to check the spread of the virus and spend time together. But exceptions are needed so that people are not inconvenienced. If the shutdown can have no impact on the Covid vaccination drive and essential services can continue unhindered despite the lockdown, there is no point in preventing people in the productive age group from going out to work at a time when the ambit of the vaccination drive is being widened. Attention should be directed more at restoration of activities crucial for sustaining livelihoods. Observing two minutes of silence has been a time-tested way to pay respect to the dead. The practice may well hold good even today.