By C Srikumar
The whole country is under lockdown for 21 days, even though WHO has warned that a lockdown alone cannot defeat the coronavirus. Was our country fully prepared to meet both the corona and the economic pandemic? Have we learnt any lesson after the outbreak in China? There is an acute shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves, cover all suits, etc. There is also shortage of ventilators.
The government has now realised the importance of government sectors and public sectors. The government hospitals, doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, police personnel, employees of various government departments, armed forces personnel, ordinance factories, DRDO, Navy, railways, banking sectors, etc., are fully geared up and working day and night. The Indian Ordnance Factories which are always subjected to criticism by vested interests and private sectors and their agents, have started in a war-footing to manufacture masks, sanitizers, cover-all suits and ventilators, while the private sector has been caught napping.
DRDO has already started manufacturing ventilators and is trying to create ‘Multi-Patient Ventilators’ wherein several patients can be supported by a single ventilator. Around 5,000 such ventilators will be produced within a month and 10,000 subsequently. The Railways is already in the process of manufacturing all types of hospital equipment. The Rs 15,000 crore coronavirus fighting package announced by the government at this juncture is only peanuts compared to what is needed. The public sector undertakings, which are closed down by the government, like HMT and others should now be commissioned back to manufacture all types of medical and hospital equipment.
Our country is now fighting two pandemics simultaneously — it is not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the economic pandemic. Crores of Indian working people have become jobless after the lockdown, adding to the army of unemployed people. Lakhs of contract and daily wage workers and domestic workers, who are living in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Noida, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Coimbatore, Kochi, Kanpur, etc, have started vacating the places, since there is no livelihood. There is no transport to take them to their home town and villages. They are walking by foot with no food and water. They are not being allowed to enter their own state, on the fear that they all will be carrying the COVID-19 and hence they will spread the epidemic in rural India.
The hotel and tourism industry is closed and four crore people have become jobless. The aviation industry is also suffering with 3.5 lakh workers becoming jobless. The retail industry employs 5.7 crore workers and majority have become jobless. A similar situation is there in the restaurant industry, real estate industry, call taxi industry, construction industry and automobile industry. The situation is further worse in the small scale and medium scale industry. Crores of workers working in these industries are on the streets. It is to be seen how the government is going to deal with the looming economic crisis.
The government itself claims that 35 crore people have opened bank accounts in the ‘Jan Dhan Yojana Scheme’. Why can’t the government decide to direct cash transfer of at least Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 in these accounts? Interest-free or low-interest loans to the small-scale and medium-scale industries could be sanctioned. Petrol, diesel and LPG price should be slashed. Then only the country can fight both the pandemics simultaneously.
The government is already facing shortage of money. It expected Rs 7.4 lakh crore collection through GST, but collected only Rs 5.8 lakh crore. It expected to collect Rs 5.2 lakh crore through income tax, but collected only Rs 4.7 lakh crore during the financial year 2019-20. The GDP growth is as low as 4.5 per cent. Stock market got crushed by 37 per cent.
According to NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar, the GDP growth could slip to zero or even negative in the first quarter due to the impact of the countrywide lockdown imposed to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus. He further says that “there is too much uncertainty and it depends on the length, severity and spread of pandemic”.
The central trade unions in their letter dated March 26, 2020 addressed to the prime minister have pointed out all those above mentioned issues. They have demanded that the government should immediately announce Rs 5 to Rs 7 lakh crore package, both to meet the urgent need of fighting COVID-19 as well as for the protection of the working people who are the backbone of our economy.
Prominent economists, civil society activists and policy analysts have written to the central and state governments appealing for a minimum set of emergency measures to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. They have stated in their appeal that the finance minister’s announcement of Rs 1.7 lakh crore is less than half of Rs 3.75 lakh crores required to fulfill the minimum emergency measures. The calculation of Rs 3.75 lakh crore only refers to an emergency cash relief of Rs 7,000 per household.
The country has to win the battle against COVID-19. However, it is not going to be an end in itself. The country has to restore its normalcy to overcome the economic, pandemic and to protect the social and economic status of every citizen of our country. (IPA Service)