Livelihood issues neglected in Covid relief measures - GulfToday

Livelihood issues neglected in Covid relief measures

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Covid-19 in India

Daily wage workers eat food inside a government-run night shelter at the old quarters of Delhi, India. Reuters

The second Covid wave, deadlier than the first, is showing signs of abatement. But it is too early to relax. The death rate remains high. Experts say a third wave is sure to come. They had warned of the second wave six months in advance. The authorities failed to prepare for it.

As a result the nation experienced am acute shortage of hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen and medicines in the early phase of the second wave . One hopes the authorities have learnt a lesson from this experience and will not be caught napping again.

According to official data, total Covid infections in the country so far is 26.78 million. More than 300,000 people have died, about 50,000 of them in the last 12 days.

Several states have reported the emergence of black fungus disease which makes the Covid situation worse. Only three per cent of the population has been vaccinated so far. Clearly there is need for heightened vigil.

The government, after exporting vaccines on a large scale until recently, is now trying desperately  to import them. The pandemic that struck early last year left the economy in a trough, following an unprecedented contraction of the Gross Domestic Priduct in the wake of the sudden nationwide lockdown declared by the Centre.

The relief measures that followed were skewed in favour of the corporate sector. They took the form of packages to stimulate industrial production and construction activity.

The principle that guides the Narendra Modi government in such matters is one touted by some Western schools that what is good for big business is good for the country.

That does not work quite well in India. The small and medium sectors of industry and even the informal sector of the economy make significant contributions to the GDP in this country.

Few corporates have benefited much from the government’s stimulus packages. They did help industries to raise production. But in the absence of money in the hands of people, there was lack of demand for their products.

Instead of going purely by Western theories, the government and its advisers must look at Western  practices too.

Immediately after assuming office in January, US President Joe Biden announced a hefty $ 1.7 trillion stimulus package.

Both the US and the United Kingdom provided livelihood support to the middle class and the poor. The funds needed for the programme were found partly by raising the tax on the rick.

Cash transfer was the means adopted by many industrialised countries to help the poor to stave off hunger and boost market demand.

A lack of concern for the poor has marked the Indian government’s relief measures. As images of migrant workers, rendered jobless in cities by last year’s lockdown, stoically walking to their distant homes flashed on television screens, the world recognised the enormity of the humanitarian  crisis. The government and the Supreme Court, where the issue was raised by some concerned citizens, failed to do so.

Several hundred thousand farmers from several states have been camping outside the national capital for six months demanding scrapping of three laws enacted by the Modi administration to facilitate corporates’ entry into agricultural marketing.

The Supreme Court has stayed implementation of the laws indefinitely. But the farmers want the Centre to droop them altogether.

The impact of the farmers’ agitation on the economy and on food security is not clear.

The Covid has pushed millions below the poverty line. It has also widened the gap between the rich and the poor.

These are issued the government needs to take into account as it draws up plans for post-Covid economic recovery.

Several economists have warned that the Modi regime’s favoured route of offering incentives to the private sector in the hope that the industrialists  will invest more will not work.

They believe it is unrealistic to imagine the corporates will invest and pull the economy up. They are of the view that the government needs to make massive investments in the next two years to put the economy back on the track.

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