Below the line

| Updated on May 17, 2020

Numbers game

The ₹20-lakh crore package announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has raised more questions than the answers it aims to resolve. The questions raised range from quantum of funds in question to the dissemination approach for them. Some ministries that are to implement these relief measures do not seem to be as involved as they would want to be with the decision-making process for this package.

The package amount and the timing of the announcements made by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has also led to some numerical play. One such assumption is that she would do press conferences at 4 pm to highlight focus on each of the five pillars announced by PM Modi. Four multipled by five is 20, the magic number given by the Prime Minister at 8 pm. Another numerical gimmick doing rounds is that the ₹20-lakh crore package at 8:20 pm, or 2020 hours. Most mathematicians and numerologists seem to find more logic in the package than the economists manage to.

India’s VUCA moment

For millions of working-class Indians and migrant labourers struggling to get back to their home-States, the Covid-19 pandemic has presented a ‘VUCA’ moment to grapple with, said a CEO in the financial sector. Thanks to the lockdown, there is now ‘volatility’ in the earnings/value of investments; ‘uncertainty’ about future earnings or employment; ‘complexity’ on how and when the economy and society will return to normalcy; and ‘ambiguity’ around whether the ₹20-lakh crore aatmanirbhar economic package would indeed put some money in their hands in the coming weeks.

Hoping for more

The RBI’s latest circular, extending the interest equalisation scheme which provides interest subsidy to exporters of 416 selected items and those in the MSME sector, by another year has left the exporting community both relieved as well as a little disappointed. The reason for relief is obvious. Since the older scheme had lapsed on March 31, 2020, exporters were waiting impatiently for an extension for more than a month, and the delay caused deep concern.

However, many sectors were also hopeful that the government would increase the subsidy on interest rate to help exporters deal with the disruption by Covid-19. The fact that the scope of the scheme has remained unchanged is therefore a matter of disappointment. According to the grapevine, the Commerce Ministry had tried to convince the Finance Ministry to increase the subsidy rate, but was told that a decision on the matter could be taken another time. There is at least some reason now for exporters to hope for more.

Where are the scientists?

It has been over a month since scientists stopped registering their presence in the almost daily press briefings held by Ministries of Health and Home Affairs with regard to Covid-19. Most questions posed to the sole bureaucrat who has been a regular attendee of the press conferences on science are met with the reply that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) scientist is absent from the briefing. While scientists are conspicuous by their absence in Central government briefings, recently a senior scientist spearheading India’s Covid strategy was invited to a Kerala government briefing, and happily obliged. Question is, why is the Ministry of Health is keeping its own scientists at bay?

Elated industry

No sooner that Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the ₹20 lakh crore economic package that the presidents of CII and FICCI went on air to laud the exciting vision of the Prime Minister, and claim enthused the industry was by it.

In fact, CII President Vikram Kirloskar was so ecstatic about the size of the package that he was “all smiles” throughout the broadcast. Kirloskar even went on to acknowledge that he was smiling for the first time in a long while! The reason was not far to see: The quantum of the stimulus package was far more than the ₹15 lakh crore that the CII had demanded. Here’s hoping that the government ensures powerful execution of the economic package to keep up the upbeat sentiment.

Our Delhi Bureau

Published on May 17, 2020

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