Indians, craving for a bit of good news since Covid’s second wave began, are now suddenly awash with it.
The headline point is, of course, that the Covid-19 second wave is getting under control, given the decline in daily cases and mortality figures, as well as the increase in vaccination coverage. Vaccine availability is set to increase — the only question is, by how much. Clearly, the worst is over and the country is better prepared for a third wave, should there be one.
However, even apart from Covid-19, there has been a swelling trickle of positive news.
First, the economy’s contraction was lower in the last financial year than expected — by 7.3 per cent — compared with the initial projections of 8 per cent, thanks to a 1.6 per cent growth in Q4.
Second, agriculture has done exceptionally well which should show up in better farm incomes and improved rural demand. Foodgrain production in 2020-21 is estimated at 305.44 million tonnes, compared with 297.5 mt in the previous year.
Even production of “import-heavy” pulses and oilseeds are estimated higher at 24.42 mt (23.03) and 37.31 mt (33.22) respectively.
Exports of agricultural products grew 17.5 per cent to $41.8 billion in 2020-21, the best since 2013 ($43.25 billion).
Third, the government’s finances are looking better, with record GST collections of ₹1.41 lakh crore and ₹1.24 lakh crore in March and April respectively. The bumper transfer of surplus of ₹99,122 crore from the RBI will also be of great help to the Centre.
Fourth, India’s exports grew 68 per cent in May year-on-year to $32 billion. This also compares well with the $29.85 billion recorded in May 2019. In fact, exports have been on an uptick since March — $34 billion, 58 per cent up. In 2020-21 overall, exports were $290.18 billion, 7.4 per cent less than the $313.36 billion of the previous year, which is not bad considering that the country was locked down for nearly half the year.
Fifth, India attracted a record $81.72 billion of foreign direct investment in 2020-21, up 10 per cent year-on-year. Indians remitted $83.1 billion in (calendar year) 2020, almost the same as in the previous year, which is a surprise given that so many Indian workers in the Middle East had lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
Sixth, thanks to FDI, remittances and other inflows, India’s foreign exchange reserves have swelled to a record $598 billion — notably, $212 billion were added after March 2021.
Seventh, the stock market is soaring. SEBI’s speculation-curbing ‘peak margin rule’, which requires a day trader to keep a margin of 75 per cent with the broker, was expected to dampen trading, but has not done so. Equity mutual funds schemes attracted net inflows of ₹10,000 crore in May alone. Over 90 companies have filed DHRPs for IPOs. Private equity/venture capital activity is on an upswing.
Beyond numbers, there are also other positives. The country’s healthcare infrastructure is improving rapidly — a benefit that will remain well after the pandemic ends.
A June 2020 estimate put India’s hospital beds at 1.9 million, including 95,000 ICU beds, which was woefully short of the requirement, at 0.55 beds per 1,000 people. But things are getting better. According to a reply in the Rajya Sabha by the Health Ministry, India added 94,880 oxygen-supported beds till January 2020. More beds have been added since then, thanks in part to the quick-erect technology, such as of the Chennai-based start-up, Modulus Housing.
Also the number of labs that can test for Covid-19, increased from 669 in May 2020 to 2,504 in May 2021, according to the ICMR. Likewise, dozens of oxygen concentrators manufacturers have cropped up, many of them low-cost. Scientists at IISER, Bhopal, say manufacturers who use their design can sell the machines at ₹17,000, within the affordability of small-town hospitals.
The second wave of Covid-19 has regrettably taken away thousands of lives. But when it goes, it is sure to leave behind a better India.
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