From the obliteration of an apocryphal locution ‘I don’t have time ’ to be a part of a reposefully agitated milieu, from being tormented by the ramifications of a war (third world war, civil war or a trade war) to hanker for the demolition of the new normal, we the anthropoids – the possessor of nuclear weapons, the beings who have scaled Moon and Mars – find ourselves vanquished by a trifling virus invisible to the naked eye. It would have seemed risible a decade ago that in 2020 robots would be commissioned to deterge desolate roads. The question which now arises is for how long will this surreal state of sapiens continue? What will happen after this period? How will we drift back to our whilom world? Albeit the answers to these questions are vacillating it won’t be fallacious to believe in the fact that mother nature is bestowing upon us an inevitable opportunity to replenish, revive and resuscitate everything around us. This dispirited phase would soon transform into a harbinger of harmony if we all dwell to work together in unity. But woefully this is far from being a reality. While this period is being used by some robust nations to emerge as superpowers amongst the powerless, India is witnessing hundreds of thousand stomachs going to sleep famished as the pandemic had hit the daily wage workers and downtrodden the most.
Self-confinement of billions of people across the globe has brought prodigious changes in hydrosphere, biosphere and the stratosphere. Pollution levels have diminution drastically, the air quality index has witnessed a thorough amelioration, canals in Venice seem pellucid than ever, before and after images at online platforms underlining the extent of isolation make rounds. It is also probable that the time ahead would see some major environmental renewals enforced due to a requisite lockdown. The baneful problem of climate change could be partially rectified (if not completely). This advantageous change could be pragmatically heartened with concrete measures involving use of renewable sources of energy such as organic disinfectants, biodegradable hospital wastes, and boycott of many other commodities, which cause palpable damage to the environment. The other facets of COVID-19 pandemic outstretch to health, wellness, politics, government and dreading terrorism. Each sector has seen herculean changes, and the economy itself has seen a treacherous metamorphosis. India’s fourth recession since independence, the first since liberalization and perhaps the worst to date, is here. CRISIL forecasted the economy to shrink by 5 percent in the current fiscal.
Hitherto the COVID-19 imposed lockdown, the Indian economy ogled at its worst pace of expansion since 2008-2009 crisis. The unemployment rate is now in double digits hovering above 23%. The young generation in India is tussling to sustain it’s employment. According to a report by Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), about 27 million youngsters in their 20s have lost their jobs. These juvenile men and women will have to face long term repercussions while competing with new cohorts joining workforce, for fewer jobs. On the other hand, one survey found out that almost 8 out of 10 migrant laborers in March and April were left unpaid by their employers. It is quite appalling to perceive that these engines of economic enterprises having faced humongous humiliation are now even willing to live on salt as they go back to their home towns and villages. A rancorous truth is that the capitalist world would soon be hit with a massive labor shortage in the low skill category.
The heart-rending death of 16 laborers who were sleeping on railway lines after a journey of 700km is an evocative elucidation of workers plight today. CMIE data suggests that millions of workers especially in the unorganized sector are rendered jobless. The repugnant condition of workers enforces me to stop and emulate how could this be possible after 70 years of independence? Yes, the conditions are not the same as they were in 1949, we have more education, more development, increased number of billionaires back home, increased cognizance among the downtrodden in fact, and many villages now have electricity 24 X 7. Indeed, some fruits of development have trickled down to the marginalized. What is missing though is a dignified life which could be hankered for by all the citizens of a democratic nation. Marginal change in the condition of workers is often equated with equity by the ruling class. Even now states tend to take advantage by reducing the menial labor security by diluting various security laws (with COVID-19 as a reason) to favor business in a period when existing set-ups could barely manage to survive. In Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat Labor Laws barring the Building and Other Construction Workers Act 1996, Workmen Compensation Act 1923, and the Bonded Labor Act 1976, are suspended for a span of three years to provide relaxation to capitalists. Many more states await to join the fray. May be the businesses would proliferate in the dearth of work men making an historical victory.
What brings jolly in the midst of gloom is UN’s Report which suggests that India’s GDP Growth Rate at 1.2% is still better than that of USA, Japan or Japan. At the international level, the global economy is expected to lose around $8.5 trillion in output over the next two years due to COVID-19 pandemic, and this loss would wipe out nearly all the gains of the previous four years. In USA alone about 33 million people have lost their jobs in past 7 weeks, and 12% of the population has filed unemployment claims. The most affected are the people devoid of savings especially in nations where short-term loans are a way of meeting all the luxuries of life. As per a report by IMF, emerging market and developing economies with normal growth levels well above advanced economies are also projected to have negative growth rates of 1.0 percent in 2020, and 2.2 percent if we exclude China.
Major aftermaths would involve dwindled savings along with the urban lifestyles being impacted significantly. Labour exodus will also erratically disrupt the supply chain and the cities particularly in nations like India, USA, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia will find it very difficult to sustain. In order to flatten the exponential potency of Coronavirus and resume economic activity, it is necessary for nations to spend courteously on medical supplies, testing kits and refrain from trade restrictions on them. This idea urges many countries to fight the virus the way Taiwan and South Korea have done. With a conception to minimize persistent scars, it is necessary for all policymakers to strengthen multilateral ties, so that whenever a vaccine or a cure is deduced it could be availed by rich and poor nations alike. Being contingent on Herd Immunity alone would wreak havoc. We have seen this in this in the case of UK where a lockdown had to be requisitely imposed to manage the exacerbating condition which was an outcome of opting mitigation. In a country as assorted as India even if 3% of the infected people die it would be a myriad. Ensuring availability of basic services such as food, shelter, healthcare and personal security (loan forbearance, tax relief and credit guarantees ) should remain the objective of stakeholders during the containment phase. Policymakers ought to form reform measures as containment measures would be bid goodbye. It could be prudently suggested that the swift policy measures include incentivized film hiring and repaired balance sheets in the public and private sectors. It is also necessary for a major shift in our economic agenda to ensure that survival doesn’t depend upon wages anymore.
The ineptitude of health care and tertiary sector exposed due to the pandemic is a critical reason behind the extension of an excessively protracted lockdown. Healthcare insurances subsidised by the centre are not an answer; the need of the hour is to rely our scrutiny on the improvement of basic health and sanitation facility at the local level, with panchayats being self-reliant getting fair share of drinking water, food and other essentials. In addition, public transport requires Brobdingnagian public investment. It is literally necessary for the economy to get on wheels to regain its momentum.
It is trivial to predict the number of deaths the world would suffer due to the Coronavirus or to forget the evoking partition like images of poor and harried workers striving to go back to their hamlets or to bury our fury at the callousness of authorities in ensuring essential services, but the extent of harm could be reduced by dealing with it together. When we all have shared the gloom we would soon share exuberance as well for it’s only under intense pressure diamonds are formed. It doesn’t matter what we’ve been through, what matters is what we have taken through. Surely we have taken with us a different way of life. A life where it doesn’t matter if you get to read the newspaper with your morning refreshment or not, where you don’t bother if the grocery store is open or not, where you could finally hear a bird chirping mellifluously close to your house, where we all carry a greater sense of susceptivity, where less is more.
-Reya Kumar (One of the prize winners of Covid-19 Article Writing Competition in the 13-17 years age group)
Picture Credits: Reuters / bangkokpost.com