India will emerge stronger after corona

Naveen Jindal | Updated on April 07, 2020 Published on April 07, 2020

Political leadership has exhibited the right resolve to fight the pandemic and it is being assisted wholeheartedly by the civil society and business community

When faced with an existential crisis or an external war-like situation, a nation fights back as a unified being. It’s during these circumstances that leaders are born. The Covid-19 crisis is arguably the biggest challenge being faced by India since Independence. The virus is a great leveller, too — it doesn’t discriminate between those living on the fringes and those occupying high seats of power. The contours of the crisis in India are, however, unique, and so should be the responses. It’s during times like these that national resolves and systems are tested, and leaderships put under the scanner.

During the Freedom Struggle, Mahatma Gandhi could unite a nation as diverse as ours against the British occupation primarily because of his moral authority. Similarly, during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, when the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri exhorted Indians to sacrifice one meal a week, the countrymen responded with a resounding ‘aye’.

During the present Covid-19 crisis, when PM Narendra Modi gave a call for a Janata curfew, followed by a lockdown to enforce physical distancing to prevent the coronavirus spread, the countrymen rose to the occasion.

States, too, acted in tandem. The Kerala health apparatus was in overdrive; Rajasthan, Karnataka and Maharashtra swung into action; UP and Delhi showed pro-activeness. Together, they have been at the forefront of this national battle.

It’s, however, going to be a long haul. And, the crisis has multiple dimensions — humanitarian, healthcare management, societal, sociological, and, of course, economic. It’s every single Indian’s life that counts the most, of course. As PM Modi said in his national address — “Jaan hai to jahan hai (if there’s life, then there’s the world)”.

Prepare for the worst

In this raging global epidemic, many developed nations’ responses have proved inadequate — so overwhelming has been the challenge. Only a handful of countries have withstood the virus onslaught. India has fared somewhere in the middle, though some would reckon that the nation has done well to contain the virus’ community spread.

But India must be prepared for any eventuality. It’s particularly important because the health infrastructure in the country is woefully inadequate. According to WHO statistics, while China has 18 doctors per 10,000 people, India has only eight. To take another statistic, India has just about 40,000 functional ventilators — so crucial if the Covid-19 cases multiply in the country. In the next three months, 30,000 more ventilators are being requisitioned, suggest reports.

In the wake of the crisis, States are working on a war-footing — capacities are being augmented, and private sector facilities are being roped in. While these measures are essentially short-term, there’s no substitute for a long-term roadmap for the healthcare infrastructure. There should be a substantial increase in government spending on healthcare, and the proposed action-plan for a medical college in every district must be actioned at the earliest.

Economically, India, already facing a slowdown, is in for a prolonged challenge. The IMF says we are in a recession, and it could be worse than 2009 (the global financial crisis). NITI Aayog’s Vice-Chairman, Rajiv Kumar, believes there could be zero growth next quarter. A report says India Inc is already experiencing its biggest contraction in the last 20 years. Faced with the present challenge, the MSMEs and the unorganised sector are going to take the biggest hit. This economic downturn, therefore, calls for India’s own “New Deal”.

Plan for the weakest

The government, however, has responded well. The ₹1.7-lakh crore corona package, as also the RBI intervention, is welcome. Women, farmers, MGNREGA workers, organised sector workers, the middle class and industry have reasons to feel many of their concerns have been addressed.

The private sector, facing multiple challenges, feels reassured by the pro-activeness shown by the government. Steel industry captains had a meeting with the union steel minister and steel secretary recently and were happy to see that the industry’s concerns were playing on their minds.

It needs to be re-emphasised that India is undergoing a crisis of unimaginable proportions. The political class has closed ranks. India Inc stands shoulder to shoulder with the government. The citizens, though anxious, are ready for the long-drawn fight ahead. In these testing times, we must ensure that the last man standing in the queue is taken care of.

As an immediate step, the ongoing reverse migration of unorganised sector workers needs to be handled sensitively. And then the Direct Transfers to those living on the fringes, already begun by some State governments, needs to be universalised. Both industry and civil society can lend a helping hand.

The government, meanwhile, needs to ensure that essential services — heavy industries, steel plants, mining, ports, to name a few — are operational in controlled environments. It would be incumbent upon these players to see that physical distancing and highest standards of personal hygiene and safety are enforced to the fullest.

Our heroes

This is also a time when video conferencing and virtual offices have been used extensively for official work without actually hampering productivity. Whether this is the future of the workplace remains to be seen.

We must also take this occasion to salute our national heroes. The footsoldiers in this battle — the doctors, nurses and paramedic staff; airlines staff; sanitation workers; civic authorities, and law-enforcing agencies — are our national heroes. It’s disconcerting to know how some of them have been ill-treated by some of us. A nation that aspires to be great cannot let down its heroes. Police must take strict action against miscreants.

Together, under our Tiranga, we stand united, and we will ensure that India emerges stronger, safer, and more prosperous, out of this unprecedented crisis.

The writer is the chairman of Jindal Steel & Power

Published on April 07, 2020

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