The Economic Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the weak spots in the economy and it is the poor, elderly, minorities, daily wage workers and women who have borne the bulk of the economic pain, writes Meghnad Desai. In a column in The Indian Express, he suggests that India could increase the GDP by a quarter by encouraging local industries or work from home to harness women’s energy and eventually bringing back workers to their jobs with free rail and bus travel.

The pandemic will depart in three or four months. But in each country, it has highlighted the weak spots in the economy. No surprise that the poor, the elderly, the ethnic minorities, the daily wage worker and women have borne the bulk of the economic pain as income growth rates have gone negative. Forget growth rates of even 4%; income will go down for a while before it comes up. India’s weak spot was found by the millions of workers in the informal urban economy. Seventy years of planning concentrated on creating a protected formal sector for 10% of workers with protection, plus another 10% of public bureaucrats and politicians. No plan generated enough growth to absorb the growing population.

Nothing to Celebrate

Just days ahead of the anniversary of the first year of Narendra Modi’s second term in office, Tavleen Singh looks back to say that there is very little to celebrate. In a column in The Indian Express, she writes that his regime moved from an agenda of economic priorities to turning India into a Hindu Rashtra. By robbing Kashmir of its special status by removing Article 370, the Muslims have been made to understand that their position in the country is lower than that of Hindus, she writes.

As the lockdowns begin to be lifted, they will reveal an economic crisis of grim proportions. If the poorest of our citizens have suffered the most, the richest have also seen their businesses badly damaged. Those in the middle, who survive from what they can earn from small businesses and from jobs in various service industries, have been reduced to a state of penury. The Prime Minister tried in his latest address to the nation to revive the dream of the 21st century being India’s century and promised reforms that would make this dream a reality.

Cleaner, and Now Cheaper: Solar Power Beats Coal

S A Aiyar rejoices at how with the latest auction for 400 MW of solar power, the bulk of future power generation can be solar without subsidies, which means a standstill in emissions of carbon dioxide, sulphur and other pollutants. In a column in The Times of India, he writes that the solution to the high rate of interest borne by Indian solar companies, is negotiation of massive loans from the World Bank to Power Finance Corporation and Rural Electrification Corporation.

World Bank loans to India can be repayable over 19 years with a 5-year moratorium and interest at LIBOR (now just 0.17% in dollars) plus 1.4%. Small loans are also available from the Bank’s Clean Technology Fund and IFC, the Bank’s private sector lending arm. But past Bank loans have been less than $100 million – peanuts for a solar industry that now needs billions. The Bank should step up solar lending hugely.Problem: this could hit limits on Bank lending to any one country. So, it can be supplemented by Bank’s power to guarantee commercial loans to the private sector, a power grossly underutilised. That can slash the interest rate. New Institutions like the BRICS Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank can be tapped too.

Those Convoluted Govt Circulars Show What’s Wrong With Indian Babudom

Chetan Bhagat takes a jibe at the UPSC exams calling the course content ‘outdated,’ dubbing it a ‘ridiculous exam curriculum and an equally ridiculous selection rate’ that does not explore the creativity and enterprise of the candidates. In a column in The Times of India, he writes how the system can be made more efficient by moving away from being archaic and anti-growth, starting with the MHA circulars so that the common man can comprehend.

How hard is it to check online on the Covid notices being released by Hong Kong, Singapore or the UK governments? How difficult is it to simplify the language and make the page look more modern? You may not get a promotion due to this, but isn’t there a work satisfaction that comes from improving things? This isn’t just about circulars. It is about every sarkaari process. Why does everything sarkaari have to be boring, dull and inefficient?

When History Is Written, It Will Be the Story of Our Marching Millions

‘A silent satyagraha’ - is how Shobhaa De describes the millions of migrant labourers who are walking back to their homes, with no money in their pockets but just the hope of reuniting with their families. In a column in The Times of India, she writes that it is quite sad that many have had to pay with their lives, but the Indian government has still not risen to the occasion.

When it was suggested that the Army could have efficiently tackled the mass exodus of migrant workers from our cities by transporting them safely to their hometowns and making sure they had food supplies, we should have raised our voices in a loud chorus and demanded just that. But we kept silent. The extra strict and unrealistic lockdown rules have been thrown out of the window by frustrated and enraged citizens in many places. How many will the authorities arrest? We are at the crucial crossroads today — which way will India go? Who will call the emperor naked? This monumental failure will haunt not just us who are living through this nightmare, but the next generation as well. One can sometimes overlook and make excuses for the genuine errors of judgement by the powers that be. What one cannot forgive is heartlessness.

Double Tragedy

Amid the Amphan - COVID-19 double tragedy, Gopalkrishna Gandhi asks the country to pause and consider a new paradigm of living in which cities must de-congest and de-urbanize. He writes in The Telegraph that with the help of experts, India needs to make MGNREGA a vital tool for reviving rural livelihood and for devising strategies to discourage rural to urban migration and quicken real estate business languishing under the economic slowdown.

But if we take this lesson to mean a new style of planning our future, with a balance between town and country, with the peasantry not being turned into a helotry for metropolitan exploiters, then we would have put the virus and the cyclone in the dock. Without attempting a Disneyesque re-animating of Jungle Book or a David Attenborough wannabe on the natural environment, let me say that when out of the rubble of a crumbled godown, a single squirrel scrambles out to breathe the morning’s air, it is being audacious, arrogant even. But it is not saying to Amphan ‘Get Lost, You!’ It is saying to itself ‘Find Yourself, Anew.’

Spend, Borrow, Monetise

P Chidambaram points out in The Indian Express that India’s economic crisis had become severe even before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The model he advocates is fiscal stimulus, that is to spend more. The need of the hour is a new budget that is much higher that the present one and this additional money can be borrowed and part of the fiscal deficit has to be monetised, he suggests.

A recession will mean greater unemployment (it is already at 24 per cent), a longer wait for job-seeking youth, lower wages and incomes, less consumption, more morbidity and more poverty. The defining image of India in 2020 will be the migrant worker, a hard working person supporting oneself and one’s family and just above the poverty line, who, reduced to being without work/job, without cash, without a shelter and without food, was forced to trudge hundreds of kilometres, sometimes with children, desperate to go back to his ‘home’, even if it meant reaching home only to die.

A Charter for Political Reforms in India

Chanakya insists that the world’s youngest democracy is in dire need of a few structural reforms. In a column in Hindustan Times, he lists them out - more freedom for citizens, autonomy for institutions, power for states, openness in political parties, and a cleaner electoral system. This will not only create history but also help reform Indian politics and political parties, paving way for a democracy as it was dreamt of in the Constitution.

Over the past few decades, Indian institutions have seen an erosion in their autonomy. The EC is perceived as playing favourites; the SC’s decisions — and sometimes the absence of decisions — have been questioned; Parliament seems weak in front a strong executive; and the Central Bureau of Investigation is seen as a political tool. The party in power intervenes in institutions today, only to then be at the receiving end when it is in Opposition; in the process, the faith of citizens in the wider system gets broken. The second urgent reform, therefore, is a charter of institutional autonomy — which restores the spirit with which these institutions were envisaged in the Constitution.

The Yaqoob-Amrit Story Could Have Healed Us

The story of how Yaqoob stayed with his friend Amrit during his last moments without thinking of how he would return home is the perfect example of the Hindu-Muslim fraternity in the country, writes Karan Thapar in Hindustan Times. He felt that this was a moment for Narendra Modi and the BJP government to respond to the charge that they’re inimical to Muslims and create a huge impact with a mere tweet praising their friendship.

This is where our ruling politicians could have made a huge difference. There’s so much else they tweet and talk about, yet, of this uplifting story, they had nothing to say. It can’t be that they did not know because it was in several papers. And it’s not that it wasn’t in our country’s bigger interest — as well as their own narrow advantage — that it be publicised. After the divisions we’ve seen over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens, the Delhi riots and the Tablighi Jammat — which have shamed us in international eyes and, particularly, those of West Asia — highlighting this story and praising Yaqoob could have sent a forceful message of Hindu-Muslim fraternity. One that would speak more convincingly than pompous diplomatic demarches and verbose comments by official spokespersons.

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