India needs a common minimum relief plan. Here is a roadmap – analysis
The coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19), and the challenges it has presented, have made clear that any comprehensive and effective response must be based on the three pillars of prevention, testing, and economic fortification. While the first two can be contained through uniform international practices, the third requires a solution that addresses India’s unique and diverse economic terrain. It is for this reason that Congress has been pressing the Center to present a roadmap that assures the most vulnerable that their concerns are paramount.
In this piece, we provide the government with a ready catalog for those at risk. These are the key stakeholders in the development, publication and execution of what we call a “Common Minimum Relief Program”.
Those below should be at the top in the order of priority. This includes wage earners, workers, and migrant workers. The last few weeks have witnessed the fact that they are the most affected in terms of economic and social insecurity. We have witnessed the magnitude of economic turmoil and displacement, with millions of migrants walking through the states to get home. There is no alternative but to prepare a specific social security program for these people and their families.
These concerns were raised by eight major national unions in a letter to the central government last week. Their suggestions provide insight into the actual cost paid by these workers who face evictions, food shortages, and lack of access to basic facilities. The government should use these recommendations as a template to identify key areas to address. This must be done on a war footing, given that the vast majority of our population is currently employed and engaged in the unorganized sector.
This brings us to India. “annadates”(Food providers). 60% of India is engaged and engaged, in one way or another, with the agricultural sector. For farmers, this year has had a greater than normal set of challenges. First, they were hampered by non-seasonal rains and inclement weather. Now, given the absence of agricultural labor and transportation facilities, how can they harvest the standing crop? Make no mistake, the shortage of wheat and other rabi crops will have adverse consequences for all citizens. The Center must provide clarity, information and guarantees on purchases and prices.
Next in this sequence, and right in the eye of the storm, is the middle class. The longer the latent economic activity, the greater the erosion of the middle class. Private sector employers have started to cut wages and will continue to do so. Large numbers of mid-level and blue collar jobs have been lost. Each index suggests that this trend will intensify in the near future.
The government’s response has been to offer a false enough delay in the payment of the EMI, without interest subsidy. This, in turn, leads to higher cost in the long run. At the same time, it has lowered the interest rate on all small savings schemes. This has directly affected older people, pensioners, farmers and women especially. This is a gripping situation in which the cost of obligations increases in the long term, while the value of savings decreases dramatically. How is this of interest to the middle class, who are already seeing their savings devastated by the high cost of gasoline, diesel and gas? These are the same people who gave up their subsidies when Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked, without thinking twice. Now is the time for the government to reciprocate and secure its interests.
Not so long ago, the government recognized small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) as the “backbone of the economy.” This is a fact, given that MSMEs contribute about 30% (~ 61 lakh crore) to GDP. The government itself has yet to provide a plan to bail out these 42.5 million entities that employ multiple times as many citizens. Unless there is a protection plan, followed by a reactivation and growth strategy, this sector will be irreparably diminished. This will devastate the spirit of the businessmen, who, in the Prime Minister’s words, are the ambassadors for the growth of the economy. Governments and the people who elect them are judged on their response to crises and catastrophes. Indians have demonstrated unwavering resolve, patience, optimism, and strength in facing the Covid-19 pandemic. For the Modi government, the litmus test begins now.
Randeep Surjewala is AICC Communications Officer and an Advocate
The opinions expressed are personal.