Charting a Common Minimum Relief Programme in times of pandemic-THE HINDU-10-04-2020


While States will come up with varying measures for support and relief, the Centre must lead this effort to ensure uniformity, optimisation and coordination amongst States of varying economic capability. The Congress Party has given multiple suggestions to the government vis-a-vis course correction and guiding measures to take on COVID-19 and the economic crisis that looms on the horizon.

Economic upheaval, geographic displacement:

First, daily wage earners, labourers and migrant workers are at the greatest risk of economic and social insecurity. They face widespread economic upheaval and geographic displacement. The sheer importance of a social security net in helping them tide over this predicted period of unemployment and privation cannot be overstated. This concern is extremely legitimate and urgent given that over 80% of the population is currently employed in the unorganised sector.

Farmers left in the lurch:

Given the vital role agriculture plays both in the economy and in ensuring staples for every single citizen, the resulting crisis is likely to have a widespread negative impact on food security nationwide. Furthermore, and to ensure the problem doesn’t become cyclical, the government needs to make immediate arrangements for ensuring the availability of fertilisers, pesticides, other inputs for the planting of the next kharif crop as well. There are currently close to 4.25 crore registered MSMEs which contribute 29% to India’s GDP and these have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis imperilling, in turn, the livelihood of crores. The government must lay out an action plan, including a financial package, to fortify this sector or risk see it perish.

Protect middle class:

Fifth, the middle class is facing growing vulnerability and needs to be protected. We are staring at an inevitable economic crisis and middle class is likely to be diminished in size unless immediate action is taken. To wit, they have reduced the value of savings while simultaneously increasing debt obligations. A long-term plan for economic revival is needed if the middle class is to emerge stronger on the other side of this crisis.

The Central government must devise and implement this scheme, at least as a temporary measure. The other measure is to strengthen our manufacture and production policies by an extensive financial package with an impetus to and focus on local manufacturing. Every crisis offers opportunities. Let us learn from the experiences that we have accrued over the past 20 days and get ahead of the curve on these issues.

India has the expertise and the talent to take on and emerge stronger from this challenge.

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