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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Indian Poor are suffering due to Lockdown. What is the road ahead for India?

Amartya Sen, Raghuram Rajan and Abhijeet Banerjee, the three Indian Economists anticipate a huge chunk of the population to be staring at starvation and becoming more poor. The reason being an unprecedented combination of job losses and standard delivery mechanism failure. Amid the lock down, what is the road ahead for India. What exactly we can do to save the poor and vulnerable.

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The FCI has stated that India has more than three times the ‘buffer stock norms’ at 77 million tons during March 2020. These figures will rise once the Rabi crop harvest comes in. The PDS (Public Distribution System) has been already following the government instructions of the distribution of 5kg per person per month for three months. With the hope of the lockdown ending soon, it is likely that some percent of the vulnerable may exit PDS. A suggestion comes from the experts of issuing temporary ration cards. This may to a large extent solve the issue of starvation.

The big issue of unemployment and the loss of savings still persists. The Indian society still has many questions to answer. How are the farmers going to buy seeds for the next season? How will the retail shopkeepers stack-up  their empty shelves? How is the general public going to repay their loans?

Cash transfers in small amounts may solve the situation for farmers and labors  The urban class is however,left out in the cold rain. Spending wisely without pinching pennies for the poor will require a bold and brave mindset. The latest mass gatherings at Surat and Mumbai has proved that there will be no cutting corners with the underprivileged.

PM Modi announced extension of lockdown till May 3 amid COVID-19
PM Modi announced extension of lockdown till May 3 2020 amid COVID-19. Sumit Saraswat/Shutterstock.com

Okay. Given all this, what needs to be prioritized now?

Arun Maira, former chairman, BCG India, backs the three experts. He asserts that COVID-19 has shown us the weak structure of the economic pyramid. The base of our economy is made up of workers and laborers. What happens when the lockdown is partially eased? Indian citizens face the challenge of poor purchasing power with unsecured incomes. The shattered supply chains need to open soon for deliveries. The time has come for ‘direct cash transfers’ into the bank accounts of the people empowering them to pay for their needs. The seeding of digital technology has helped in secure financial transfers. The digital platform has eased banking and opening Jan-Dhan accounts.

What does India want at this hour? People of India demand justice. Poverty is knocking the doors of the workers as well as an average Indian household. Lockdown is thus showing us a bleak future with disguised unemployment around the corner. Figures of 23.4 % unemployment and labor participation rate of 36% are a bearer of bad news.

Representative Image: A man sleeping in a park next to a road during the hot lunch hours. Shutterstock.com/Filip Jedraszak

So, In the end, will the Lockdown 2 be Slayer or Saviour?

Lockdown has been a savior by saving many lives through preventive action. On the other hand, the fate of the underprivileged has made it a slayer. More than 6.3 lac migrant workers are testing their fates during the extended lockdown. Lacs of workers is stranded at relief camps or at construction sites without income and food. They are also unable to go back home. There are also nearly 12 crore people who are on the verge of losing their livelihoods.

Rural India brings out in open the lethargic attitude of the government. No ration cards allotted as the official cap on them is not revised for the last 10 years. Along with that new names not added, no deletions or the family marked a nomad. The situation deteriorates as the family standing on the poverty line, is now on the verge of starvation. Loss of income forces people to spend less on nutrition and health claims more lives. The latest estimate of ‘Burden of Deceased’, states around 73000 deaths every year due to malnutrition. Diseases related to poverty like Diarrhea, Tuberculosis, Malaria, and infant deaths have claimed lacs of lives ranging from 1.84 lacs to 5.2 lacs. Around 50,000 more deaths are anticipated over a period of two years post lockdown. The lives lost may be poorer but younger though invisible.

Lockdown 2- Saviour or Slayer - What do the Experts say?

Okay, while making headway, here are some suggestions to be followed:

Lives as well as the economy both are important and need to be protected. The PM has emphasized on this and is taking salient measures towards it.

For the firsts, PDS has to be universalized, cash transfers increased with the removal of all the possible blockages in the access of these entitlements for the next three months. Emphasis on providing cooked food to the workers by SWAN (Stranded Workers Action Network) has provided much relief.

How will we mobilize PPE kits and inter-state movement? The only way out is through the removal of coordination snags.

COVID-19 will show local presence within the states. This again will require quick and mindful financial responses. State and disease-specific needs will arise. The states and the center, hence need to follow three keys to fight this lockdown. Consult, communicate, and be transparent.

Ergo ensuring total compliance without any constraint at the state level nor any kind of public bother should be our prior concern.

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