In the film, The Two Popes, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, recounts a joke: a man asks, ‘Is it all right to smoke while you pray?’ Aghast, Pope Benedict replies that of course it isn’t. Another man asks, ‘Is it all right to pray while you smoke?’
The Pope recognises the profound difference in the framing of the two questions — the first seemingly a blasphemous act, while the second, an unhealthy habit given a pious sheen. The current conversation about the national lockdown also begs a change of framing — not whether the lockdown should be kept come hail come shine, but whether movement of people can be conducted while maintaining the raison d’être of the lockdown: non-transmission of the virus.
As the case builds for selective, rational suspension of the lockdown, to prevent economic collapse — remember, rabi harvest is upon us — the modalities of establishing a reasoned ‘halfway house’ gain in salience. One such calibrated solution has been suggested by Prof Sukanta Chaudhuri (on this page Thursday, bit.ly/2R5uh1X), in which Indian Railways (IR) can be utilised.
Chaudhuri points out that with passenger train travel currently locked down and IR being under GoI, ‘the railways could provide securely monitored transit’ of labour, entry-exit points Covid-19 testing, and controlled distancing within coaches. Goods trains could take on some of the cargo stuck on clogged roads.