Saving lives is key, but livelihood too needs attention

A policeman distributes rice packets among the needy people during the nationwide lockdown amid the coronaviras pandemic in Guwahati Tuseday April 14 2020. (Photo | PTI)

 

As expected, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has extended the nationwide lockdown till May 3. Even before he did so, at least 10 states and union territories had extended it until April 30. The decision is in line with what other countries have done. Italy and France, two of the worst-affected European countries, have also extended the lockdown. While there are indications of the growth of COVID-19 plateauing there, it is difficult to read such a trend at least in some states of India. For this reason, perhaps, policymakers thought it fit to extend the lockdown.

While no doubt saving lives is important, livelihood also needs due attention. To state the economy, already reeling under a slowdown, has been dealt a huge blow would be an understatement. Industries and factories have ground to a halt, with MSMEs, the mainstay of India’s economy, the worst-affected. Rabi harvesting is underway, with expectations of bumper crops across many regions, but farmers are in distress due to the lockdown.

Migrant workers, who make up 80% of India’s workforce, have either returned to their villages or are stranded, with many becoming unemployed. Struggling companies have announced pay cuts for their employees, and many have laid off their staff. Given the dire consequences, the Centre should announce a stimulus package for industries and other sectors. Various industry bodies have come up with their own estimates of the package. The Centre need not be influenced by them but it also shouldn’t be too worried of the fiscal deficit as these are not normal times.

While it mulls the stimulus package, the commerce ministry’s request to reopen some industries by giving some relaxations needs serious consideration. Limited industrial activity with adequate safeguards of social distancing and regular health check-ups for employees is necessary to not only reopen the monetary tap but also to put money in the hands of the common man. By now health experts know the trajectory of the virus to an extent. Even they will argue that a prolonged and complete shutdown will only be counterproductive