In all likelihood, 2021 is going to be remembered as the year that brought along tremendous amount of turmoil and grief due to Covid-19. This year, the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has been much worse than 2020 as we witnessed huge loss of lives and livelihoods across social and economic barriers.
While families still continue to lose their bread-winners to the virus, more and more people struggle to retain their jobs. Though inevitable, the lockdowns and curfews imposed by the governments to contain the pandemic adversely impacted the economy and decelerated the process of growth and development.
According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy CEO Mahesh Vyas over 10 million or 1 crore people lost their jobs because of the second wave of coronavirus. He states that 97 per cent of households’ incomes have declined since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. The unemployment rate is expected to be at 12 per cent at the end of May as against 8 per cent in April.
Estimates of Moody’s and the government that India’s economy is likely to bounce back by 2021-22 will be challenged and this process of recovery might be painfully slow due to disrupted economic growth, unprecedented inflation and rising unemployment.
While precious lives can never be replaced, the livelihoods still stand a chance. It is now time for the government to go all out and salvage the situation while it is still possible. Beyond doubt, the second wave of the pandemic has been devastating as it unfolded immense human tragedy and blurred the line between lives and livelihoods.
It is not that the Indian economy was booming before the pandemic hit the country in 2020. The latest revelation by the government on India’s GDP as it shrunk further by 7.3% in the year 2020-21 is not an aberration but a stark reminder of the tight spot that India is in at the moment.
A careful look at the figures makes it fairly clear that the Indian economy had started sinking much before the pandemic hit the world in late 2019. From abrupt demonetisation and haphazard implementation of GST to a huge burden of bad loans in the banking sector, there were too many factors that continued to weaken the economy over the years. The pandemic only added to the already burgeoning economic stress while shaking the collective conscience and well being of people at the same time.
As we try to come to terms with the aftermath of the second wave of the pandemic, there are speculations about a third wave hitting any time soon. The mere thought of such a possibility evokes fear and concern about whether we as a nation of 1.4 billion will be able to face it. The second wave of infection has already exposed our vulnerability in dealing with such crises. With only 3.2% of the total Indian population fully vaccinated so far, a third wave is imminent. But we can be better prepared this time.
The third wave of the pandemic is likely to be as severe as the second wave that has already infected several crores. But the overall impact is expected to be much less. While officially, the second wave saw approximately 4 lakh cases nationwide on a daily basis, the unofficial estimates cut a staggering figure of 40 lakh everyday.
The already affected population is developing temporary immunity as they recover from the disease. This coupled with a sizeable population that has already been vaccinated makes another wave of the infection rather manageable, given the fact that both these categories of people would now be under some sort of security cover. The ones infected by the virus and recovered would now be adequately immune to the disease for another 5-6 months.
Additionally, people who have taken the jabs would now be in the process of developing antibodies against the virus and thus would also be rendered immune to the disease in the months to come. In the mean time, the vaccination drive is also likely to gain momentum as the governments gear up to make the vaccine available to everyone. This is backed by an assumption that there would be no new variant of the virus in times to come.
Now is the time for the government to deploy all its energy and resources in getting the economy back on track. Employment needs immediate revival and restoration. As we brace ourselves for yet another wave of the pandemic, preparedness in terms of adequate medical supplies and facilities, economic assurance and an aggressive vaccination drive is the way forward. This coupled with an immediate revival mechanism for the economy is likely to lessen the overall impact of the pandemic.
The government needs to expedite the infusion of budgetary allocations into the economy as an immediate measure. The United States has shown us the way forward as the government allocated $6 trillion package while putting all the money in the hands of its citizens.
It’s time to let capital dryness go by injecting funds into the arteries of the economy. Two months of this financial year have already passed with very little to cheer about. The growth that was envisaged has largely remained elusive due to the lockdowns. While everyone was looking at 2021-22 as a revival year, the figures have not been encouraging so far.
We now have a buffer period of the next 6-7 months when we can equip ourselves to deal better with another wave of infection. People are now slowly developing faith in the vaccine despite the initial reluctance and scepticism that slowed down the immunisation programme. Now it’s the turn of the government to take proactive steps on the road to recovery.
Initiating an aggressive vaccination drive, revamping the healthcare system and boosting the economy through assertive means are some of the immediate steps that need to be taken. While a viable treatment for the infection still remains elusive, vaccination is the only possible way to protect ourselves while keeping trust in science.
Here, it is important that motor-mouths like Baba Ramdev hold their reins and think twice before they speak. A shrewd businessman like him could lead the way by talking sense as has a huge fan following and is taken seriously for what he says. Instead to getting into an ideological brawl with the medical fraternity, he should urge people to get vaccinated as that seems the only way to go.
In any case, Patanjali group has a lot to gain in the long run as the group expects to have an annual turnover of Rs 35,000-40,000 crore in 2021-22 thereby dethroning HUL and becoming the largest company in the FMCG sector in India. Providing employment to around 4 lakh personnel and farmers, the group envisages to reach 50 crore plus consumers in the next decade.
At the same time, the opposition also needs to show restraint and not work towards pulling down the government with all their might. Governance is a collective exercise and all of us have to proactively contribute to it.
It’s about time to leave the past behind and move on. Government has already messed up by delaying the procurement of the vaccine. Of course, accountability needs to be affixed but probably now is not the time for that. It is the time for recovery and revival. The worst is perhaps over as the nation rises yet again with new hope and determination. Now it’s the turn of the government to deliver as delay is no longer an option.
(Amit Goel is a Consulting Editor with India Ahead. The views expressed in the article are those of the author.)