Topic: General Studies 2:
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
COVID-19: The perils of an all-out lockdown
Context: Impending health and economic crisis in the face of COVID-19 spreading in India.
Staying at home (shutdown) has two motives:
- Self-protection motive, where a person acts out of fear of being infected
- A public-purpose motive, where a person participates in collective efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
Unlike the health crisis, the economic crisis is not class-neutral but hurts poor people the most.
Impact on Lockdown on Poor
- Informal Sector: India’s Informal sector employs approximately 85% of all workers (Source: Niti Aayog ‘s Strategy for New India at 75, released in 2018). This sector whose earnings is usually on daily basis will be severely hit due to economic standstill caused by the lock-down.
- Internal Migration: Mass-layoffs in informal sector & factories have forced migrant workers to head back home, some without being paid.
- Shut down of essential services like Public transport, administrative offices, court hearings and immunization drives to varying degrees in many states – has lead to aggravation of hardships faced by poor people who are heavily dependent on them.
- Transport Sector dislocated: Essential commodities like wheat & food grains which were transported by road transport are facing the brunt because of the disruption caused due to lack of private sector participation.
- Lack of Social Security to the poor in India: Unlike in developed countries, the insurance & pension coverage in India is meagre. This lack of social security will make poor man’s life difficult during these times of shutdown.
If the Poor are asked to stay at home, they will need help which can be offered by the government through the following ways:
- Public services that help poor people without creating a major health hazard should continue to function as far as possible. For example: PDS, administrative offices at district & local levels
- Utilizing Existing Social Schemes to support the poor:
- Advance payment of pensions
- Enhanced PDS rations
- Immediate payment of MGNREGA wage arrears
- Expanded distribution of take-home rations at schools and anganwadis.
- Displaying creativity: An explicit list of essential services and official guidelines on coronavirus readiness at the workplace needs to be drafted & advertised by the governments.
- For instance, anganwadis could play a vital role of public-health outreach at this time, even if children have to be kept away.
- Many public spaces could be used, with due safeguards, to disseminate information or to impart good habits such as distancing and washing hands
- Increase resources and labs for testing along with enhanced awareness about the disease so that people don’t go for testing without solid grounds.
- For instance: The ‘Break the Chain’ campaign started by Kerala government advocates ideas of basic cleanliness and hygiene
If the poor must stay at home, they need income support and essential services. Government should hence come up with economic blueprint to tackle the economic challenges posed by the pandemic. The constitution of task force headed by the Union Finance Minister is a step in the right direction.
Connecting the dots
- Universal Basic Income – its utility and challenges