As the novel coronavirus spreads, India sees a twin-crisis: a health crisis and an economic crisis. The current health crisis is still very confined and the casualty is not much as only around 10 people have died so far. But in terms of economic crisis, millions of people die every year.
As the pandemic has been increasing rapidly all over the country pushing nationwide-lockdown, the lower section of the society is harsh-hit. Street vendors, migrant workers, contract workers, daily wage labourers and almost everyone in the informal sector is being hit by this economic Tsunami. In many states, casual labourers are forced to rush to home for quarantine. More importantly, their families have by now almost entered into starvation.
When we look at the bigger picture of our economy, it is paralyzed by the economic problems of low aggregate demand, currency depreciation and others leading to a decline in the overall growth of the economy. However, as of now, more concern should be shown to the poor section of the society who are also the worst-hit victims of the economic crisis invited by the global health crisis.
Our Prime Minister called for a nationwide lockdown on 24 March 2020 with an aim to prevent the community-transmission of the virus. People supported it whole-heartedly and exhibited commendable cooperation with him. This was a kind of drill or practice for the people regarding social-distancing which might be continued for some extended period. But the other side of the picture is vivid to everyone i.e. impact of lockdown due to Covid-19 on the poorer section. The question is— how will they earn their livelihood now when almost all parts of the nation are closed? This is the time, economic crisis calls for urgent and massive relief measures. Lockdowns may be needed to slow down the pandemic, but poor people cannot afford to stay idle at home.
On these lines, some states have already started safety measures for the poor. For instance, the Government of Uttar Pradesh has promised and extended around Rupees 1000 crore to be given to daily wage earners through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT). Many workers working under MGNREGA are demanding safety allowances as they are not allowed to work due to lockdown. They have even written to the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister demanding an emergency relief package of Rupees 700 a month for April and May. These are the few facts and figures about the impact of lockdown in different states of the nation.
Coming to our state Sikkim, there has been no official confirmation of any positive COVID-19 cases in the state while the country’s total cases registered is around 519 as on 24 March. Still, our state is trying and applying all the necessary steps to prevent the virus from entering. However, as the state has sealed most of its borders and has also announced a complete lockdown, now the situation on the economic ground is same as that of other states. Daily wage earners, casual labourer, migrant workers and others are going through an economic crisis. In Sikkim, not only this section of the society is hurt by the lockdown but a certain section of temporary employees including ad-hoc teachers having order till 31 March have also been equally affected. Despite such a situation of the majority of the working population, the state government has not announced any safety measures so far to take care of these vital sections of the economy.
Now, even if the government comes up with certain safety nets, the problem here in our state is that of the categorization. Thus, another important problem to be addressed is— How will they apply the safety nets when the state lacks any proper data on the working group in informal sectors of the economy, their per capita income, data on unemployment etc. Now, it is high time we realized the importance of economic indicators for policy purpose to combat such a crisis in the state with two-edge problem. The point is, we won’t be able to solve the economic problems unless we have authentic data on macro as well as microeconomic indicators.
By Arjun Sharma. The author is from Geyzing west Sikkim and can be reached via email email@example.com
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