A world which is soaring on capitalism and materialism, emotions are just fragile fragments of mechanical solidarity. While the dark clouds and the cacophony of thunders guide us to stay home; the gentle breeze still injects the portions of hope within our souls. One of the most delightful portions of this hope is ‘the act of being together!’ COVID19 is just not bringing billions of families together, but it is acting as a threshold link in a highly polarised and diverse society; where the debates about segmentation are unfolding in a loud manner. However, can this portion of hope hold the society together for a more extended period? The realistic answer is, No! One has to receive a significant amount of essential resources to sustain this pandemic. So the Life vs Livelihood debate will be incapable of providing feasible solutions because both the terms mentioned above are interdependent variables. During late March and early April, we saw a symbolic reverse migration due to temporary unemployment, which led to inability to pay rents and buy essential commodities.
Similarly, in Kenya, a part of the population believes, they should be allowed to face Coronavirus as they have survived other deadly viruses in the past. They believe their family would die of hunger if locked for over three days. Hence our primary focus should be on both the Inter-dependent variables and not just considering a singular aspect in isolation. This pandemic is a humanitarian crisis followed by an economic backlash. The only solution to tackle and contain this virus is to take quick policy decisions and communicate it effectively. The four sectors below would need rapid reforms to stabilise a particular nation-
Economy – During the 2007-08 Global Financial Crisis, many countries witnessed a dip in their GDP in two successive quarters. Canada strategically managed to get out of the recession phase by avoiding the mega banking crisis; which led to a formation of ‘V shape graphs.’ Which traditionally means the growth is temporarily displaced, but it rebounds to the usual trajectory as the capital formation is not profoundly dented. The United States of America, on the other hand, substantiated a ‘U shape’ graph, as there was a precipitous fall in the growth chain. The recession hit the supply side which could not really match the old trajectory in that course of time. However one can argue that India has rarely recorded negative growth and in today’s scenario with the limited trade with China, (some sectors are extensively depended) India might not get as severely affected as other Western countries. However, since the recession is inevitable, India has to make drastic efforts to shorten the recession period and avoid painting a ‘U shape’ graph. There are broadly four scenarios which India might have to face in the worst-case scenario. If the liquidity problems hit the market, then the credit intermediation and investment will shock the financial systems. The companies and households might run out of cash if the economy is frozen for a more extended time. If there are lags in the capital formation system, then credit channels will potentially shut down, which will tamper the ultimate growth. Damaged households and companies will have unstable balance sheets and crippled investments. In addition to that the tax revenues are expected to fall sharply as the corporate tax will collapse due to no profit or negative growth. Sales and the additional value-added taxes will see a new dip, and so will the income tax due to temporary unemployment. The first question that arises after reading the above points are, how can we stabilise the boat in a windy ocean full of high tides?
India has announced a 1.7 Lakh Crore package for the lower-income sector, but considering the fact that this Lockdown might extend, the GoI must come up with a stimulus package for the big industries and MSMEs. It becomes supremely necessary to bail out the MSMEs and other severely affected sectors. India needs to intensify its focus on two things – The supply chain and the unemployed migrant labours. (Worst hit) The fiscal deficit has always been a heated debate in the parliament, but at this point of time, the fiscal deficit can be relaxed to an elastic point from where a country can bounce back after this pandemic settles down.
- India has to work with diverse sectors and policies to stabilise the economic effects of this pandemic. Agriculture is one such sector which requires immediate attention. 43% of India’s workforce is dependent on agriculture which constitutes about 17.6% of national GDP. The harvesting time is knocking on the door. The government has to ensure adequate labour supply at an adequate rate which will enable the supply chain to work efficiently. Agricultural schemes like ‘PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme’ can be expanded in terms of per capita resource allotment. The minimum procurement price and buying the maximum percent of crops can stabilise the livelihood of millions depended on these sectors.
- The reverse migration is a worry both in terms of both economic and healthcare aspects. A portion of hope mixed with reality can be injected in this sector by using a significant percentage of the population as the door-to-door transporters. The government should bear the essential cost of operations. These initiatives can boost schemes like National Career service and deliver instant results with beneficiaries on both sides.
- Industries employ about 25% of the workforce and contribute to about 27.5% of our GDP. The Global manufacturing output (PMI) was below satisfactory during the first quarter of this financial year. The aggregate total of many developed countries has registered a below 50% PMI in 2019, which is an alarming bell both for the government and the industries. About 90% of the workforce is employed in the informal sector, and it is predicted that over a quarter may lose their jobs due to this pandemic. The construction sector will be one of the worst affected sectors within the industries as all the real estate, and government projects are on hold for the time being. Government has to spend a significant amount in this sector by various means – DBT, Protection schemes and other financial benefits. RBI has already announced various measures in terms of the moratorium for three months and slashing the CRR and Repo rates to enhance the liquidity. The Central government, RBI, and financial institutions have to act cohesively to protect billions of citizens. The government can consider schemes like ‘discount windows‘ that can provide short term finance to the needy industries to bail them out and ensure liquidity. The banks should also provide loans in an increased manner at a considerable low interest to the customers who have good banking and account maintenance history.
- The Service sector employs the maximum amount of the population and contributes the maximum to the economy. (55%) The government sector employees will receive their salaries, but the worst-hit sectors in the service industry are – Tourism, Hospitalities, Transport, and Media & Entertainment sector. The small shops and other outlets also constitute in this sector. The government and as well as the top-management of firms have to come together to protect their employees. The worst-hit sectors can be allowed tax postponement for a couple of months and DBT to a segment of the population.
- Entrepreneurs are coming up with numerous innovative prototypes, may it be multi-patient ventilators or sanitising drones, the young Indian minds do not miss a chance to convert the tragedy into an opportunity. The rise of Entrepreneurship in India is not just India’s ultimate strength, but it will be amongst the most innovative success stories ever written across the globe. The government should, at this point, ease various stringent registration laws and provide a breathing space for the founders. Like the social security and government schemes in the service field, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship should attempt to provide similar benefits in the startup ecosystem as it is the sector where we are witnessing a high amount of innovation and growth.
The above measures if infused within the time frame can proactively stabilise the current economic scenario and pour in confidence in the masses.
Healthcare – The Indian healthcare system is known to provide curative treatment at an affordable price for once those who afford it. In recent times, we have seen India emerging as a Medical tourism destination as it is home to some of the most exceptional private and medical hospitals. However, considering today’s healthcare scenario, the above system might come under a scanner as it is not just limited to specific population treatment, but it has to treat masses who require health care at this time frame. According to the data from the National Health Profile – 2019, there are about seven lakhs hospital (government) beds in India. The rough estimates suggest that there are 0.55 beds per 1000 population. Twelve states which constitute 70% of the national population have less than 0.55 beds. The North Eastern and Eastern states like Sikkim and West Bengal are above the national average. The scenario is the same while we talk about the elderly population. There are no exact numbers for the total number of ventilators in the country, but some reports suggest, availability of around 25,000 ventilators at present. India has already placed an order for around 50,000 ventilators from local companies and other countries. Considering the fact that some ventilators are already occupied and witnessing the recent rise in the graph of the COVID, the Indian healthcare system is not fully equipped to deal with this pandemic. Since India started revamping and innovating the health care system from early 2020, the given few months is not a considerable amount of time; rather it is a buffer period to make the best out of the existing system. In this buffer phase, we can try the below-mentioned strategies-
- All the districts are preparing a specialised CVOID Hospitals, but the quarantine capacity in every district should be ramped up. This can be done by taking over many hotels, community centres, sporting venues and other convertible venues. We have seen Bhilwara doing it, similarly every district needs to be prepared by the given threat level.
- Testing is the most debatable topic in this pandemic. A part of the population believes that the state should ramp up testing. This sounds like a breakthrough on paper but in reality considering the capacity of labs, trained staff, testing cost, and testing accessibility; mass testing seems an idealistic but a non-feasible way for a country like India. We should instead ramp up contract testing and random testing in every hotspot. Recently the Supreme Court of India intervened through its Judicial activism, it ordered the private labs to test free of cost and the amount can be reimbursed by the Government. By analysing this decision rationally and emotionally, I fear the capacity of testing can go down significantly unless a quick reimbursement model is designed.
- A relief fund should be set aside for Innovation and R&D. Importing non-essential commodities, raw products and other medical supplies might be costly due to a surge in demand. Indian organisations and institutions should be allocated funds to create indigenous and feasible solutions. This also gives a massive boost to the local manufacturing and innovation sector, which in turn saves billions of dollars and increases our job utility. The current local manufacturing of kits, paper strip tests, ventilators, PPEs, face shields, and all other innovative products give us an idea of what India is capable of in the coming future.
- There has to be a robust Public-Private partnership to fight this pandemic, unlike the corporate sectors and government relations, we have to tie all the ends together to create holistically effective solutions. Many companies in private sectors have deep-rooted connectivity as their products are directed towards the masses. (Rural population) The corporates have to fund various projects generously, NGOs have to reach out to the ground zero, youth organisations like NSS and NYKS have to volunteer for various activities, and the government through its funds and experience has to steer the ship in the rough ocean.
- The Plasma treatment is showing positive results in various parts of the world. We need to start infusing these treatments in our medicine line to check the local results and feasibility. Many reports suggest the TB vaccine helps in immunisation against CVOID 19, this and other reports should be scientifically tested to enhance the treatment efficiency. Hydroxychloroquine should be tested in mass segments to obtain a large sample size for proving it a preventive measure for masses.
- The import of essential and not producible commodities should be escalated to fill the demand and supply gap. Certain chemicals and final products have to be imported for immediate use. This, however, does not mean to import faulty kits from countries for just the sake of testing.
- The mass digital training of all the healthcare workers should be undertaken by the experts, to prepare them for various activities like last mile health inspection, ICU preparation, and other necessary things. The younger staff has to take the lead in this pandemic, and the specialised experts have to guide them; together the medical team has to create a collaborative effort to act as a shield in this time of disruption.
- India can also consider providing insurance to all CVOID 19 frontline workers from all the sectors, which includes Media, NGO, and all other working sectors. This can be done by creating a temporary mechanism which can be executed through My Gov application.
Global Governance and Law Enforcement – Humanitarian crisis is a time when all countries tend to help the other countries in all possible ways. Nevertheless, we are living in an era where profits are valued over people’s lives. This is an era where crises can be manufactured to tamper the growth of other countries and escalate domestic GDP. China has attempted to be a Global leader by supplying numerous commodities to the developing countries. Chinas’ attempt at masked diplomacy is not working as effectively as expected because the propaganda machine of Beijing is not that effective as its other economic ruling machinery. India, a country which is on a fast track development phase, on the other hand, is seen as the humanitarian aggregator. From rescuing its citizens and other foreign nationals to supplying necessary medical supplies to the worst-hit countries at the moment, India has shown the world how to lead this battle on various fronts. India has already taken initiatives to lead the SAARC and G-20 summit, which translates into a powerful Global message. This is the golden time which India should encash on. India has already taken early domestic steps to flatten the curve, but if India can ramp up manufacturing of the essential supplies and help the other countries, it will have a dominant share in the new world order, and India will not just remain a country that promises, it will be a country which delivers.
Now, emphasising over the law enforcement measures which India has taken in the past few months is debatable but one has to understand, enforcing a strict law in a country which is densely populated in not a very easy job in practical terms. The citizens have never been exposed to this kind of situation and it is the equal responsibility of the local administration to understand the thing mentioned above. Few things India can do to enhance the law enforcement mechanism are-
- ‘Drop the lathis‘ is the first step which the local police should take until it is indispensable. The citizens are in a dilemma; the authorities should try and understand the other sides’ point of view as well. The lathi should only be used when it is a repeated violation or an extreme activity.
- The Shelter homes and food distribution drives have to scale up to avoid mass migration and mass gatherings. Shelter homes can be created by acquiring properties like it is done for quarantine facilities; the government can pay the owners a subsidised rent. Food distribution has to spread out in many fragmented areas to avoid mass gathering. In all the districts, the markets should be shifted into large open spaces with social distancing measures in place.
- One of the common reasons of lockdown violation is lack of fear; the fear can be generated by various means such as a loud flag-march, local level warnings, and by use of broadcast and social media.
- The Central and the state government have to be on the same page in terms of law enforcement decisions, and these decisions have to be followed by the lower ranks officers without any second thought. Coordination amongst the Centre and the State is keeping India ahead in this battle, unlike many other Western countries.
- Many countries are using contract tracing as a practical result proven tool for locating CVOID 19 patients and warning those who have come in contact with them. However, this comes with compromised citizens rights, the world which fought for digital privacy rights since the very beginning, CVOID 19 will just make surveillance a new normal. However, countries should not misuse this and should use it for a temporary and specific time.
Crisis Communication – Communication has the power to make or break society. Especially in this time of crisis, the communication has to be motivational and as well as informational. The communication from the honourable Prime Minister is motivating but lacks information. The Lockdown messaging could have been better; the first half of the speech could have been about motivation and pouring confidence by ensuring about the supply chain, the latter part of the speech could have unfolded the Lockdown. The Janta Curfew and Diya Jalao messaging was spot on, and the results are visible in terms of stats, media reports, and by witnessing it yourself. Many State leaders have led the crisis communication task ideally, which in turn gives a significant portion of hope amongst the masses. All the leaders must use the communication channel in a well-synchronised manner to pour a sense of confidence and belief amongst the population.
- The leaders must extensively use social media in their vernacular language to reach out to the masses.
- Local information warriors can be selected to propagate the factual and vital news.
- Campaigns like Speak to the leader, favourite actor, and sportsman can be launched to increase engagement and personalise the campaign.
These are the four broad points which India needs to focus on to stabilize the ongoing pandemic and the after effects of the same. India needs a grand stimulus for the industries and then it will require a grand reconstruction of the budget in future. History says when the economy was fragmented in the 1990s, India saw radical policy level changes in the economy. In 2020, the CVOID 19 might just tamper the economy enough to make a set of policy reforms which the country has lacked in recent years. Keeping all the things in mind and looking at the Global scenario, India is doing very well till date but can India contain this pandemic? It will depend on various measures mentioned above.