BELOW the line

| Updated on March 29, 2020

Milking away

Panic buying after the 21-day curfew was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put much pressure on grocery-shop owners, as consumers rush to hoard essential commodities. Despite the diktat, most resorted to massive profiteering and products such as face masks are still scarce.

Though now there has been some stabilisation in the value chain, there is an underlying sense of fear that there will be a sudden shortage if the disruptions persist. In a reflection of the panic, a milk van was mobbed by residents of a housing colony in Lucknow last week. While the milk was paid for, the van was forced to offload all its goods at one spot and stopped from going ahead by irate residents.

Not a bright idea

Most Indians see digital as the future, and are all for it. However, enforcing the digital agenda may not be all that fruitful during the time of a pandemic, when most people are struggling to make ends meet, given the shutdown.

That said, the Department of Financial Services has asked banks to send SMSes to request women Jan Dhan account holders — most of the 20.4 crore women account-holders have only feature phones, if at all — to use digital payment modes to withdraw the ₹500 per month under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana.

But going digital for this is not a feasible solution, say banking industry observers, as several women PMJDY beneficiaries are still not equipped to handle digital banking.

This fancy idea, in fact, has come from an overseas private foundation that is working closely with Central and State governments to provide, among other things, financial services for the poor. Oh well!

Unsung heroes

Providing insurance cover (presumably health insurance) of ₹50 lakh to each of the 22 lakh health workers fighting against Covid-19 is a great step. However, lakhs of Bank mitras (business correspondents) and other contract workers (who are not on the rolls of banks) are feeling left out, as the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman did not include them as beneficiaries for the special insurance scheme announced on Thursday.

Not only are these workers risking their lives by working (remember banking is an essential service) during the Covid-19 times, they are also going to see a sharp fall in their remuneration, which is basically commission, due to drop in banking activities in interior India. Maybe it’s time for government to draw out an insurance scheme that would cover people for ‘loss of incomes’ in turbulent times. Clearly, in a paralysed economy, more heavy lifting is needed by government and financial sector regulators.

No debate, no reply

The Parliament has approved the Finance Bill, the most important part of the Union Budget, without any debate or reply. Just before the session commenced, the Lok Sabha Speaker called leaders of all the parties and it was agreed that there will be no debate on the Bill.

But, when the process for passing the Bill started, Adhir Ranjan Chaudhury (Congress) and TR Balu (DMK) sought response from the Finance Minister on measures to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, to which the Speaker said that since agreement was of a ‘no debate’, the proceeding would go on accordingly.

Still, the two leaders continued with their demand. Later, a senior leader of the ruling party said that a reply can be given only when there is a debate and questions are asked. Since there was no debate, expecting a reply or response from the FM is pointless. Really?

Caught off-guard

In stressful times of lockdowns, the Ministry of Health officials were embarrassed after news agency ANI recorded their private talks about how to ‘manage’ the media while revealing selective information about the virus. ANI also tweeted, albeit unknowingly, an instance where a Joint Secretary of the Ministry was asking a scientist to not emphasise on any point and stick to the line given higher-ups, that enough testing capacities are available.

Last heard, ANI was asked to delete the tweet carrying the video of in-camera briefing, which it promptly did.

Our Delhi Bureau

Published on March 29, 2020

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