Govt should go all out to ease pandemic pains

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on May 05, 2020 Published on May 05, 2020

Rather than trade charges, our politicians should seek expert help to tackle the economic fallout of the lockdown

When renowned economist and former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan said that there is an urgent need for India to help its poor, its migrant labourers and daily-wage earners, and that this can be done by setting apart around ₹65,000 crore, any sane government would have given it a serious thought, at the least.

But the problem is that this suggestion came from Rajan, who is now member of a top level IMF external advisory group set up to give perspectives on key global developments and policy issues including response to the corona pandemic, in a video chat with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. As expected, the BJP-backed trolls on social media ridiculed Rahul Gandhi’s style of questioning.

And in the cacophony of that noise, the finer points made by Rajan on putting some safety net in place to lessen the adverse impact of the inevitable loss of millions of jobs, that the “lockdown cannot go on forever”, and the necessity of strategic opening in phases, and so on, was lost.

Strategic benefit to India?

The response from Rajan to one question on what is on every Indian’s mind, that is, if there will be a strategic benefit for India post-Covid-19, was expectedly a measured one. It didn’t really give us the one jingle we want to hear: that is, in the post-corona, the world’s anger against China, justified or unjustified, stated and unstated, on the kind of devastation that a virus emanating from China has wreaked on the world, is bound to explode. And it will result in India emerging a favoured manufacturing destination as miffed countries move out their manufacturing facilities from China.

All that Rajan would say was: “There are ways countries can take advantage of the situation. There will be rethinking. In this situation, India can find opportunities.”

Earlier, in an interview to a TV channel, the former RBI Governor had said unequivocally that if India asks for his assistance on measures to take to tide over the impending, unprecedented hit on our economy due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he would come on board willingly.

But the issue is not about getting only Rajan’s help; of course he does not have a magic wand to relieve the pain that our economy, and millions of our poor, are going to experience. Help has to come from a group of experts.

Already, there is ruckus over agitated migrant workers who were left high and dry for several weeks in India’s big cities, without home, money and stripped of their dignity as they became totally dependent on the government and civil society’s charity even to get two basic meals a day.

When thousands of such agitated people came out on the streets of a Mumbai or a Surat, surely many of them, infected or carriers, only added to increasing the number of infected in India.

Even till Sunday evening, there were reports of a couple of States, including Tamil Nadu, not even seeking special trains to send migrant labour back home. Sooner than later this pandemic will be behind us like a ghastly nightmare, but it will leave a blot on our collective conscience on how India stripped its poor and marginalised of their basic dignity and human rights during this traumatic period.

After all, what would it have taken the Central and State governments to press in extra trains and buses to send out migrant labourers home? Many of our reputed corporates who use contract and migrant workers agreed to, and did, take care of their workers during the lockdown, but the fact remained that these workers were reluctant to stay back in a scenario where their families were starving as they had no money to send back home.

Political circus

And then on Monday, a new political circus was on display after Congress chief Sonia Gandhi taunted the Centre for asking the migrants to pay train fare for returning home and announced that Congress State units would pick up this tab. Central government sources hit back saying, “we don’t want our villages to turn into Italy.”

She in turn said that if ₹100 crore could be spent for the Trump event in Gujarat and ₹150 crore could be given by Indian Railways to the PM CARES Fund, why charge migrants train fare to return home. GoI clarified that 85 per cent of the fare was anyway being paid by the Railways and “systems” had to be followed in returning migrants to their villages.

While politicians trade charges and counter-charges, they do so from safe citadels, even as an uncertain future, loss of work, poverty and even starvation stares millions of Indians in the face.

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Published on May 05, 2020
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