The grand finale of the 2019 Speak for India-Delhi edition was earlier slated to be conducted in March. However, the nationwide lockdown imposed from March 24 to arrest the spread of the Sars-CoV-2 virus delayed the event for nearly eight months. On Tuesday, the house witnessed the finalists debating whether the lockdown was the right step in tackling Covid-19 in India.

The opening arguments made by the winner of 2019 Speak for India — Vinayak Gupta, a graduate from Delhi University’s Hindu College — emphasised that the lockdown gave the country’s inadequate health infrastructure time to prepare for the onslaught of cases that would hit it sooner or later. “If the lockdown hadn’t been imposed, there would have been more patients and no health infrastructure to deal with it,” said Gupta.

His opponent Priyanshi Sharma, however, argued that it was too little, too late. “World Health Organisation (WHO) started speaking about Covid-19 disease in January itself. We took two months to impose the lockdown without consulting all stakeholders including labour ministry and bureaucrats. If such a lockdown were to be imposed at all, it should have been done at an earlier stage with more planning,” she said.

Sharma also added that since the country has re-opened with checks in place, the same thing could have been done back then. Gupta, however, argued, “This alternative was only possible because the lockdown was imposed at the right time. Besides, the government did offer stimulus packages and benefit schemes to counteract the effects of migrant crisis and economic slowdown.”

On Tuesday, candidates — armed with masks and sanitisers — continued to debate the effects of the lockdown in front of a group of 50 people. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions put in place, organisers had decided against a larger crowd to ensure social distancing measures.

While the Covid-19 lockdown and the economic hardships arising out of it dominated the last round of Tuesday’s debate, the previous two rounds focused on the start-up culture and whether corporate jobs could be compared to slavery.

While Ranu Sancheti, from the FORE School of Management, argued that corporate jobs put more value on human productivity than humans shifting from the traditional form of slavery, her opponent and runner-up Sharma contended that this can be construed as an argument against hard work.

“Corporate jobs cannot be compared to slavery which was racist and forceful among other things because of the presence of choice. Growth in these companies is dependent on the extra hard work put in by people. If some don’t want to do so, it is their choice. They have that freedom,” said Sharma.

In the first round, the debate was flagged by a discussion on the start-up culture and whether it was a fad or trend-setter. While Laiba, a graduate from Daulat Ram College who only goes by one name, argued that the start-up models were mostly borrowing business ideas from other country and applying it in India without taking into account the country’s culture, her opponent Bisathi Bharat argued that start-ups offered an alternative to reduce corporate inequalities since people coming from different backgrounds can become entrepreneur.

Among the topics covered during the zonals and the semi-finals were the connection between unemployment and new forms of technology, Indo-US partnerships, authoritarianism, censoring shows on OTT platform, and whether celebrities make good politicians.

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